Nato must be alert to the danger of terrorists deploying deadly chemical or biological weapons supplied by the "rogue" states that support them, the US warned its allies yesterday. Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary and Washington's leading hawk, told alliance colleagues of the "alarming coincidence between states that harbour international terrorists and... states that have active, maturing programmes of WMD [weapons of mass destruction]".
Taking part in a meeting in Brussels of Nato defence ministers, including Britain's Geoff Hoon, Mr Wolfowitz was seeking to keep the allies firmly behind the US as it puts together its strategy for combating terrorism.
Opening the day-long meeting with a minute's silence in memory of the American victims, Lord Robertson, the Nato secretary general, said all 18 other allies had pledged "unflinching solidarity" with the US, though there had still been no formal request from Washington for any action.
On September 12, the day after the atrocities, Nato for the first time ever invoked its cold war-era pledge that an attack on one ally was an attack on all. But after yesterday's talks here it is also becoming increasingly clear that the alliance as such will play little or no part in any conventional military action.
Underlining Britain's likely role, the chief of the defence staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, joined talks between Mr Hoon and Mr Wolfowitz, who also held bilateral sessions with his French and Turkish counterparts.
Mr Wolfowitz did not provide any conclusive evidence that the attacks on New York and Washington were the work of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. But he insisted there was no doubt about the identity of the culprits. "The essence of this organisation is to hide away," he said. "We're going to find every snake in the swamp we can, but the essence of the strategy is to drain the swamp."
It seems clear that little in formation will be made public - a potential problem when it is clearly important to maintain support for an unprecedented effort that could also involve curtailing civil liberties.
"This is a very difficult exercise," Mr Hoon said. "But Afghanistan is a very useful example of what we need to do, because it is a country which, for a long period, has harboured terrorists and made facilities available to them. The message we are sending to Afghanistan is one which should be heard in other countries which harbour terrorists.
"The point has been made that there are some links between countries that harbour terrorists and those that allow the development of weapons of mass destruction."
Mr Hoon urged the allies to make their airspace available for the US, while the Dutch called for an anti-terrorist unit to be set up inside Nato.
Nato ministers also met later in a separate session with the Russian defence minister, Sergei Ivanov. "I do not rule out a possibility of joint armed actions as the last means to be used in the struggle against this evil," the Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.
• Russia urged more than a dozen countries to sign up to a 1997 chemical weapons convention or face condemnation as "suspects who open the way to terrorism". The body in charge of implementing the chemical weapons control accord needed to take "tough action" against countries which did not sign up, a close aide to President Putin said on a visit to the Netherlands.