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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK
Newslog
Nick Robinson accompanied Tony Blair on his trip to see George Bush in Texas. Here in Newslog, he keeps an ongoing record of what's happening.

Monday 8 April


The moral of the story
posted by Nick | 0850 GMT | Add comment

So what is it that binds the metropolitan lawyer leader of the British left and friend of Bill Clinton to the Texan oilman, pin-up of the Republican Right who's contemptuous of Clinton? What induces Tony Blair to declare that he'll stand side by side with the US and not indulge in what he describes as "grandstanding criticism" (dismissing the views of much of his party and most of Europe's leaders)?

Having travelled with the prime minister on three trips to see George Bush I think I know the answer. It's moral certainty. George Bush praises Tony Blair as a man who doesn't need a poll or a focus group to know what's right and wrong - it's praise Blair relishes.

Travelling home from Texas this morning the prime minister sounded convinced that he could convert many of the doubters about his stance on Iraq since they would see that he and Bush were taking the right decisions for the right reasons. He believes that, he really does. No doubt that will infuriate his staunchest critics - led by the Mirror whose front page portrays him as Bush's poodle - but it also makes him a formidable leader. Harold Wilson paid a huge price for his perceived closeness to the US. Is Tony Blair about to do the same?

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Sunday 7 April


Shoulder to shoulder, but eye to eye?
posted by Nick | 1517 GMT | Add comment

This afternoon, Tony Blair will try to pull off a difficult trick - praising George Bush while seeking to bury his isolationist instincts.

A speech he will give will warn us not to forget the lessons of 9/11.

Blair and Bush do agree on lesson one - identify threats and eliminate them.

However, they clearly don't see eye to eye on Blair's lesson two - you have to intervene to solve conflicts that breed terrorism.

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BBQ and boots
posted by Nick | 1514 GMT | Add comment

We never got the barbecue and boots summit we had been promised.

Sensitivities about how this would appear during a period of mourning put paid to that.

Instead, we had the pecan-smoked beef tenderloin and black tie summit. It will never catch on!

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With friends like these ...
posted by Nick | 1502 GMT | Add comment

Coffee, muffins and frustration at the Bush ranch this morning.

George and Tony awoke to discover that "their friend" Israel had not, after all, heeded their advice to withdraw from the West Bank "without delay" - even though the president had phoned Ariel Sharon to make plain what he was saying.

Could it be that Sharon calculates that Bush has no appetite to match his words with action?

Though the oil man in Bush might see a reason to act.

The good people of Crawford tell me that their gas is 7 cents a gallon dearer since the trouble escalated - that might be just what the president needs to encourage him to act.

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Saturday 6 April


Time for the test
posted by Nick | 1535 GMT | Add comment

Now we get the test. Is George Bush, in that old Texan saying, "all hat and no cattle"? Is Tony Blair, as we Brits put it, "all mouth and no trousers"?

George Bush called on Israel to halt its West Bank incursions and to pull out. Since then they have actually gone further and show every sign of listening only to the parts of Bush's speech which they wanted to hear.

So far the White House has said nothing about this. What they have done is to pour more scorn on Yasser Arafat and talk of finding others to deal with. Music to Ariel Sharon's ears.

(By the way, the reason for this anti-Arafat feeling is, I'm told, not just predictable pro-Israeli bias from a Republican administration. Ironically Bill Clinton is partly to blame. He told Bush that Arafat had scuppered peace efforts in the past - something Bush has never forgotten.)

What's more the President has said what his spokesman was forced to apologise for saying just a few weeks ago - that is that Clinton's Middle East summiteering actually led to more violence by building up false expectations.

But - you may say - Secretary of State Colin Powell is going to the region, they must be serious.

You know what they say to that here in the States? "They don't listen to Powell in Washington DC, so why should they listen to him in Jerusalem?"

So, all eyes now on today's Bush-Blair news conference. Will it produce the cry across the Middle East "where's the beef" or whatever it is that people there say?

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Friday 5 April


I love Texas in the springtime
posted by Nick | 1315 GMT | Add comment
I can't wait to be back on Texan soil. The politics there is bigger and brasher than anywhere else. Last time I visited, the state legislature was debating introducing the death penalty for anyone who poisoned the "state tree" - a magnificent and ancient specimen under which Texas's constitution had been signed.

This bill was being rushed through after a spurned lover had poured Paraquat on the roots of said tree to get back at the woman who had dismissed his advances. The children of Texas wrote messages to the ailing tree which were pinned up on its branches. A state senator even proposed that an appropriate form of punishment for the offender was that he should be hanged from a branch of the tree.

---------------------------

Here we go again
posted by Nick | 1213 GMT | Add comment
Off we go again on Blair Force One. Another Tony and George show, though not the show they had originally planned.

It was to have been all cowboy boots and cowboy rhetoric about the war on terror and taking on Saddam. But that was before the Middle East went up in flames, and the Queen Mother's death. Now the talk and the images will be much more sober. Given the president's speech yesterday, is there anything left for the prime minister to do?

The answer comes in the American phrase "you talk the talk, now walk the walk". That means long term engagement by the US in the Middle East of the sort that this administration was desperate to avoid and condemned when Bill Clinton tried it.

It means persuading the US to persuade Israel that there will be no end to violence without the start of a real political process - the lesson, Tony Blair believes, of Northern Ireland.

It means convincing Bush that without this the US will be friendless when it comes to taking on Saddam.

Powerful people in Downing Street make an extraordinary claim for Tony Blair, referring to him as "George Bush's strategist".

The Israelis and Palestinians further apart than ever; anti-Americanism more vocal than for years; and the war in Afghanistan far from over...there's an awful lot of strategising to do.
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