Tony Blair speaks in favor of close ties between Europe and United States, keeping troops in Iraq

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday it is important for Europe 's security that it maintain close ties with the United States in the future.

Blair, wrapping up his two-day visit to Slovakia , also said it would be a mistake now to withdraw troops from Iraq .

"Europe should partner America ," he said in a discussion about the future of Europe with students of Bratislava's Comenius University . "We should be partners together and the trans-Atlantic alliance is vitally important today for our security."

"My view very, very strongly is that we stick with this alliance," he said.

Acknowledging that "there's an element of anti-Americanism in European opinion at the moment" Blair called it shortsighted and wrong. He warned that " Europe would make a strategic mistake of the most fundamental seriousness if it divorced itself from that American relationship."

Facing a question about British casualties in Iraq , Blair pledged to keep British troops in that country despite the difficult situation there.

"If we walk away from (Iraq)...for cause of terrorism that is disrupting democracy we will do the most terrible damage not just to that country but to the security of the whole of the region and the wider world," he said.

Britain has been the Bush administration's strongest ally in the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the subsequent occupation. Blair did not say Friday what would be the right time for ending the presence of Britain 's 8,000 troops in Iraq .

He said he was supporting Turkey 's eventual membership in the European Union, should that country meet all the necessary criteria, and said the future status of the Serbia-Montenegro province of Kosovo has to be "fair and reasonable for all the different people in the region."

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, and talks that started in February aim to resolve its status by the end of the 2006.

Blair declined to answer a question about whether Kosovo should gain independence from Serbia , as sought by the province's ethnic Albanian majority.

Blair left Bratislava for the Czech capital, Prague to attend a meeting of leaders of Europe 's socialist and social democratic parties, reports the AP.


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