October 31, 2001 – How the world was looking, this Halloween in 2001. With the search for Osama bin Laden leading to Afghanistan, and U.S.-led forces going after Taliban believed to be hiding bin Laden, it was now a diplomatic effort to get neighboring Middle-East nations together to form a “coalition of the willing” as President Bush put it. So Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair was sent on a mission of pitching support to create a coalition, for what were promised to be retaliations against those believed to have been responsible for the terror attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th.
Not as easy as it sounded – not this time. In 1990, it was a different set of circumstances – Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait. It was relatively easy to assemble a coalition from neighboring countries who deemed Iraq’s aggression as potentially damaging to the region. It was, to paraphrase the Arab saying: “me and my brother against my cousin”. In 2001 the circumstances changed and some in the Arab world saw the Taliban as potentially a good thing, particularly in relation to the Palestinian/Israeli question. Blair’s meeting with Bashar Assad produced no commitment of support. Much of it was based on eliminating the word Terrorist from the proposal, as well as reaching a consensus of support from neighboring countries. Assad was strongly critical of the B-52 bombings taking place in Afghanistan, saying the raids claimed the lives of many civilians, including children. In addition, Syria was very high on the U.S. list of states which sponsored terrorism, so political arm-twisting and proper wording were crucial. In Saudi Arabia, the mood was best described as “jumpy”, since Osama bin Laden was himself Saudi by birth and several members of the Royal family were vigorous supporters of his efforts. The gist of the meeting between Blair and King Fahd was best described as “lengthy and aggressive” with the King denouncing the U.S. stand on terrorism.
All in all, a set of meetings where the best face needed to be put forward. Observers expressed optimism, but it was all predicated on serious negotiations if anything was going to be accompished.
And that’s a minuscule portion of what went on this October 31, 2001 – as reported by the BBC World Service program Newshour.
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