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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 May 2007, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
Bush: Blair exit may be my fault
Tony Blair
Tony Blair is on his final trip to the US as prime minister
US President George Bush has said he "could be" partly to blame for UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's departure from Downing Street.

Appearing at a joint press conference at the White House, Mr Bush was asked if he was responsible for the end of Mr Blair's premiership.

He said: "I could be", before saying he would work with his successor Gordon Brown, adding he was a "good fella".

Mr Blair is on his last trip to the US before he steps down in June.

He has faced strong criticism from within his own party over his policy in Iraq and his friendship with President Bush, his closest ally on the world stage.

Mr Blair's decision to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Mr Bush in refusing to condemn Israel's bombing of Lebanon last autumn provoked anger among normally loyal Labour MPs and is thought to have added pressure on him to quit.

'Tap dance'

At their last joint press conference in Washington on Thursday, the two leaders heaped praise on each other and re-affirmed their relationship.

Mr Blair said he admired Mr Bush "as a president and I regard him as a friend" and said he was proud of the relationship between their countries.

The question is, am I to blame for his leaving? I don't know
George Bush

"I've taken a view that Britain should stand shoulder to shoulder with America after September the 11th. I have never deviated from that view, I do not regret that view," he said.

President Bush also defended Mr Blair as a "courageous man", saying world leaders listened when he spoke.

He added: "He is a respected man in the international arena. People admire him even if they may not agree with him 100 %, they admire him a lot."

'Political grave'

Asked whether he was "partly to blame" for Mr Blair's departure, Mr Bush joked: "I haven't polled the Labour conference, but, could be."

He added: "The question is, am I to blame for his leaving? I don't know".

And he rounded on British journalists asking about Mr Blair's retirement, accusing them of trying to "tap dance on the prime minister's grave".

According to a book by US journalist Bob Woodward, the president was aware of the difficulties Mr Blair faced getting the Labour Party to support the war in 2003 - and offered him the chance to keep British troops out of the fighting - an offer Mr Blair reportedly rejected.

During Mr Blair's visit, it has been confirmed that Gordon Brown will be the next Labour leader and prime minister, after his sole rival failed to get enough nominations to run against him.

Questioned earlier about what sort of relationship he might have with the US president, Mr Brown said it had to be "a very strong one".

Asked about the future of US/UK relations under Mr Brown, Mr Bush said: "I met him, I thought he was a good fella".

He said he hoped to help Mr Brown in office, the way he had been helped by Mr Blair when he was first elected.

But he added, for now, he would continue to work with Mr Blair.

"My attitude is this. This man here [Mr Blair] is the prime minister and we've got a lot of work to do until he finishes.

"He's gonna sprint to the wire you know, he's gonna finish the job people want him to do, and I'm gonna work with him to do it. "

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