British PM seeks ties with Bush, presidential candidates

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April 17, 2008
— British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has not had an especially close relationship with President Bush, but he may be looking for a tighter bond with his successor, whoever that might be.

Brown is meeting with all three major presidential candidates Thursday, before heading to the White House to discuss the shaky global economy, Iraq and closer trans-Atlantic ties with Bush.

The relations between the two leaders contrast with the bond between Bush and Brown’s predecessor, Tony Blair.

Blair’s chumminess with Bush, who was highly unpopular in Britain, contributed to his drop in popularity. Brown has been more wary. Ties also have been complicated by Brown’s decision to draw down British troops in Iraq.

The meetings with the candidates offer an opportunity for a less fraught relationship with whoever moves into the White House.

His three 45-minute meetings within three hours at the British ambassador’s residence also provide the candidates with a chance to appear presidential with an important foreign leader.

“That’s remarkable,” said Julianne Smith, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Europe program. “Few foreign leaders could secure these kinds of meetings in the middle of a campaign. That speaks to how the candidates view relations with Britain.”

In a CBS interview Tuesday, Brown offered praise for all three prospective presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He specifically praised Clinton’s plans on the economy.

The British leader arrived in the U.S. on Tuesday with his wife, Sarah, for his second visit since replacing Blair last June.

On Wednesday, Brown attended a session of the United Nations before a meeting with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a round of talks with investment executives on Wall Street.

The U.S. trip, however, has been overshadowed by the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, who met with bush Wednesday and plans to celebrate Mass at a new baseball stadium in Washington on Thursday.

Ahead of the visit, Brown said that coordinated efforts to shore up the world economy can reinforce ties between Europe and Washington that were frayed by the Iraq war.

Despite a gloomy financial outlook at home and domestic complaints over his response to the global credit crunch, Brown said he believes that Britain and the U.S. can enjoy a new decade of growth.

After a frosty first meeting with Bush in July, Brown said he now hopes he can help strengthen ties, aiming to lead work on tackling spiraling food and fuel prices, reform global institutions and combat climate change.

“I feel I can bring Europe and America closer together for the future,” Brown said, in his CBS interview. “That will be to the advantage of all of us, to deal with economic problems, climate change and help make for a more peaceful world in the future. I see huge opportunities in the next few years for Europe and America to work more closely together.”

The men plan to hold talks, and a Rose Garden news conference, on Thursday, before dining at the White House.

Brown is expected to pledge not to withdraw immediately hundreds of troops from southern Iraq until local security forces show progress in driving out militias.

Brown has said a plan to reduce British troop numbers from about 4,000 to 2,500 would remain on hold. The troop drawdown, which had been due to begin within weeks, was delayed after a recent spike in violence in the southern port city of Basra.

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