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Thursday, 14 December, 2000, 13:38 GMT
A not especially special relationship?
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and outgoing US President Bill Clinton
Blair will miss Clinton in the White House
By BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder

The so-called "special relationship" between Britain and the US has, in the past, seen some extraordinarily close partnerships between their leaders.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are clearly soul mates. John Major and the original George Bush got on like a house on fire. And before that there was the most passionate of them all, between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

But it is a pretty safe bet that the relationship between Mr Blair and George W Bush will not be one of these matches made in heaven.

Whatever Mr Blair says in public - and he has to keep the alliance with the US as strong as he possibly can - he will be dismayed at the long-postponed result of the American election.

Mr Blair disagrees with Mr Bush on a huge range of issues, some of them at the core of their personal beliefs.

US President-elect George W Bush
Bush poses problems for Blair
The prime minister, for example, is deeply opposed to the death penalty while Mr Bush approved scores of executions during his time as governor of Texas.

Mr Blair, while personally opposed to abortion, believes in a woman's right to choose while Mr Bush is fiercely opposed.

Mr Bush has emerged from a right-wing - critics would say redneck - political landscape while Mr Blair is the classic Islington liberal.

Glowing tribute

So the differences between them run deep and it is hard to see the two men hitting it off in the way Mr Blair and the outgoing president, Bill Clinton, have.

That was underlined by the fact that President Clinton was at dinner with Mr Blair at Chequers on Wednesday as the effective result of the US election was due.

The friendship between the two men was never more evident and Mr Blair paid a glowing tribute to the president who he will clearly miss.

The prime minister's attitude has been neatly summed up by his spokesman who declared on Thursday: "There can be a strong personal relationship, but what matters is the relationship between the countries.

"The prime minister makes a point of getting on with other leaderships in the world, no matter where they come from on the political spectrum."

So there is unlikely to be a close personal friendship but both leaders know they have huge mutual interests.

Outgoing US President Bill Clinton
Clinton was personally committed to Ireland
And it is that which has led to speculation that Mr Bush, once he is president, may ponder some of the issues which have so concerned Britain and the rest of Europe.

Top of the list is inevitably issues to do with defence, particularly US troop deployments and the proposed "son of star wars" missile defence programme.

Mr Bush, who has done little to hide his disinterest in foreign policy, has suggested he would gradually withdraw troops from the Balkans, leaving Europe to head the Nato contingent.

Less enthusiastic

He has also signalled he wants to go ahead with the hugely-controversial National Missile Defence Project, which would require bases in Britain.

Both would cause major problems for Tony Blair, but analysts believe Mr Bush may be more flexible once in office.

Second is the issue of Northern Ireland on which Bill Clinton devoted so much personal commitment.

There have been suggestions Mr Bush will prove far less enthusiastic about the peace process.

What certainly seems true is that he probably does not have the personal commitment Bill Clinton does, and that may prove pivotal in the peace process.

All these concerns come at a time when the government is already under attack at home for turning more towards Europe - with the planned rapid reaction force, for example - and away from the US.

Mr Blair is eager, however, to dismiss that suggestion and will seek to work closely with Mr Bush.

The crucial period may well be the transitional period between now and January when Mr Bush will assess his priorities and his global allegiances.

Whatever the final outcome, however, it is certain both men will continue to talk about the special relationship between their two countries.

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14 Dec 00 | Americas
Bush team prepares for power
14 Dec 00 | Americas
Bush to lead a nation divided
14 Dec 00 | Americas
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