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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 June, 2005, 01:52 GMT 02:52 UK
Enough payback for Iraq?
By James Landale
BBC News, Washington

Prime Minister Tony Blair came to Washington more in hope than expectation, a huge task before him.

Bush and Blair
The two men managed to reach agreement on some issues

He left in the knowledge that some progress had been made but there was still, in the words of the old Labour Party slogan, a lot more to do.

The progress was all on debt relief.

President George W Bush hinted that he was now committed to the prime minister's aim of 100% debt-relief for sub-Saharan Africa.

The prime minister said he was confident that the G8 finance ministers could hammer out a deal when they meet in London later this week.

There were few details, but the deal appears to centre on new ways of compensating institutions like the IMF and World Bank, who are the big losers if all that debt is written off.

If a deal can be achieved before the G8 meeting next month and if it is enacted in full, then that could make a real difference to the lives of millions of Africans.

Presidential lecture

There was less progress on direct aid.

The PM wants international aid for Africa to be doubled to $25bn (13.5bn).

Zambian children
A deal on debt could make a difference for millions of Africans

All the president could stump up was a paltry $600m (327m) for emergency famine relief in Ethiopia and Eritrea - welcome perhaps, but a drop in the ocean long-term.

A key sticking point is that the Americans believe less debt should, in the long run, mean less aid.

President Bush was also keen to point out, several times no less, that he had tripled aid to Africa - the clear impression being that he was clearly not going to take a lesson from the rest of the world about generosity of spirit.

And on top of that, the prime minister had to endure a lecture from the president over the need to link aid to better governance in Africa.

"Nobody wants to give money to a country that's corrupt," the president said, "where leaders take money and put it in their pockets."

Climate change deadlock

Such was the president's vehemence that the prime minister had to follow suit.

Aid, Mr Blair said, was a two-way commitment - African leaders had to make a commitment to the rule of law and democracy.

"We are not going to waste our countries' money," he said.

And as for reforming world trade rules - well, there was hardly a mention from either leader.

And as far as climate change was concerned - well, there was less than a glimmer of a deal in the offing.

So, was this enough payback for a prime minister who had supported this president so loyally over Iraq?

Well, the prime minister did not leave empty-handed. He has at least the prospect of something concrete to put on the G8 table at Gleneagles next month.

The question is: is that it? And if so, is it enough?




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch Mr Blair arrive in the US for the pre-G8 talks



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