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Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 15:05 GMT
Blair the globetrotter
Tony Blair in a line-up of world leaders
Summits play a major part in any prime minister's diary
Tony Blair's trip across the Atlantic, leading up to his first meeting with new American President George W Bush, is the latest overseas outing for the UK's globetrotting prime minister.

During four years in power Mr Blair's travels have taken him from Moscow to Tokyo, Hong Kong to Dublin, with stop-offs in Johannesburg, the Seychelles and Macedonia along the way.

Tony Blair at EU summit in France
Summits can mean exotic locations but it is business as usual
His approach to the world stage on coming to power was markedly different to predecessor Margaret Thatcher, who told her first foreign secretary Lord Carrington that if he wanted to go abroad that was fine, but she was staying put to run the country.

Even if her attitude quickly changed, Mr Blair has never been the stay-at-home type: in the seven weeks after his May 1997 election win he embarked on seven forays overseas.

Among them was the hugely symbolic trip to Hong Kong for the handover from British to Chinese rule.

It was the prime minister's first high profile outing on the global stage and his first chance to play the international statesman.

But such one-off visits are rare - summits are the mainstay of the modern British leader's itinerary with competing demands from the European Union, Commonwealth, United Nations, Nato, and the G8 group of industrialised countries.

Tough-talking

One of Mr Blair's first summits, in Amsterdam and again within weeks of arriving in Downing Street, was also his first meeting with fellow EU leaders.

But it was no honeymoon meeting as the UK emerged from tough negotiations with an opt-out on home affairs issues such as asylum policy.

Other EU summits have followed a similar pattern.

Helsinki in 1999 was overshadowed by the row over the French ban on British beef while the Nice gathering last year witnessed five days of marathon talks.

On his return Mr Blair hailed it as one of his most significant foreign policy victories after preserving Britain's national interests over tax and social security while helping secure a treaty enabling EU expansion eastwards.

Tony Blair with Leo on holiday
Even on holiday the Blairs attract huge amounts of attention
Earlier the same year, a short trip to Russia saw the prime minister become the first western leader to meet Vladimir Putin following his elevation to the presidency.

But controversy wasn't far behind, with human rights campaigners protesting against abuses during the conflict in Chechnya - an issue Mr Blair raised with the Russian leader.

More headlines were made during Mr Blair's 1999 holiday to the Seychelles and his reported role in rescuing a Danish tourist in trouble at sea off a beach.

The daring mission was seen in a new light, however, when the rescued man later insisted he was merely asking for a lift back to the shore.

In fact Mr Blair's family holidays have sometimes attracted as many headlines as his most high-profile official trips abroad.

Bill Clinton and Tony Blair
The two leaders forged a close relationship
Criticism has been levelled at the Blairs for staying at the 50-room Italian villa owned by Prince Girolamo Strozzi, using the Royal jet to travel there and, last year, threatening to cancel the annual photocall in protest at the publication without permission of pictures of baby Leo Blair's christening.

Another foreign trip earlier in Mr Blair's premiership notable for more poignant reasons was to Tokyo in January 1998.

Japanese premier Ryutaro Hashimoto issued an apology for the way British prisoners of war were treated by his country in the second world war.

Just a month later Mr Blair was off for his first meeting with George W Bush's immediate predecessor, Bill Clinton.

The two went on to forge a close working relationship and the prime minister made a point of standing by the president during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Mr Clinton suggested recently that he and Mr Blair could become lifelong friends.

It is less likely the meeting with Mr Bush will result in a similar bond being forged, whatever efforts are made to overcome the political differences between the two leaders.

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See also:

22 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Blair wants 'best of both worlds'
11 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Blair hails Nice success
08 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Blairs face the cameras
11 Mar 00 | Europe
Blair calls for Chechnya probe
09 Jan 99 | UK Politics
Blair the hero - well, maybe
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