Blair heads to Washington to begin five-day visit

British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives in Washington on Friday to discuss strategies for ending the Mideast crisis, amid growing pressure at home for Britain to distance itself from its longtime ally and call for an immediate end to violence between Israel and Hizbullah. Talks between Blair and US President George W. Bush will focus on building momentum for a cease-fire, Blair's spokesman said, as well as a plan for an international peacekeeping force. But Blair is aware that many in Britain believe he should align himself with the United Nations and European Union and call for an immediate end to the fighting in Lebanon, using the White House meeting to press Bush to add his support to such a move. An open letter published Friday in Britain's The Independent newspaper and signed by former British Cabinet ministers and ambassadors urged Blair to help broker a swift cease-fire. It warned that any continuing support for Israel's military action could become as unpopular with the public as the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.