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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April, 2003, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
Blair 'must distance himself from Bush'
Robin Cook
Cook says Blair made a 'strategic error'
Tony Blair must distance himself from US President George Bush if Britain is to be a major European power, former Cabinet minister Robin Cook has warned.

He said the prime minister's relationship with Mr Bush had left Britain "the odd one out", with France and Germany now the dominant forces in Europe.

Mr Cook, who resigned his position as Leader of the Commons over the war with Iraq, told the New Statesman that Mr Blair's closeness to the US President was a "strategic error".

Mr Cook had warned that he would not remain quiet while on the back benches.

At the end of March he was criticised by ministers for telling a Sunday newspaper that he wanted British troops home from the Gulf before more were killed.

Warm relationship

In the New Statesman article Mr Cook writes that the prime minister's close relationship with Mr Bush has undermined Britain's standing in Europe.

Tony Blair has pursued a strategy of restoring Britain as the closest, most reliable ally of the US
Robin Cook

He says: "Labour's objective on taking office in 1997 was to make Britain a partner of equal importance in a triangle with Germany and France.

"After the divisions over Iraq, Europe is back to a Franco-German axis, with Britain once again the odd one out."

Mr Cook, who was on the Labour front benches for 17 years, said the prime minister is wrong to have tried to establish the same warm friendship with George Bush as he enjoyed with Bill Clinton.

'Strategic error'

Mr Blair must now decide whether it is more important for Britain to be close to the Bush administration or Europe, Mr Cook argues.

"The fundamental foreign policy dilemma for Britain is not Iraq, it is not even Europe, it is what kind of relationship we can maintain with the US while it is under neo-conservative management," he writes.

"Tony Blair has pursued a strategy of restoring Britain as the closest, most reliable ally of the US ... The strategic error was to attempt to roll forward the relationship with Clinton to his successor."

He continued: "If the Prime Minister wants to restore Britain's status as a major European player he must now accept that moving closer to Europe requires, by definition, putting more distance between Britain and Bush."

United front

Mr Cook's comments were made as the prime minister prepared for an EU summit in Athens on Wednesday, which UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will also attend.

Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder

It was being held after Mr Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder presented a united front on the future of Iraq, following talks in Hanover on Tuesday.

It was the first time that they faced the press together since damaging splits emerged over Iraq.

The German chancellor stressed the friendship between the UK and Germany and said: "It is time now to concentrate on the problems arising out of the new situation and to resolve those problems."

Mr Blair said the UK and Germany agreed on the need for the UN to have a role in the future of Iraq.


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