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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 July 2007, 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK
US and UK: Close but not quite as close
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Gordon Brown and George Bush
Change of style: No sign of Blair's "tight" jeans

For those who wanted Gordon Brown to make a clean break from the Tony Blair years, the new British prime minister's first meeting with President Bush might have been a disappointment.

He did not make such a break. He did not want to. However, there were subtle signs to differentiate this relationship from the intensity of the Bush-Blair years.

And Mr Brown tried to round out his firm re-commitment to Mr Bush in the fight against al-Qaeda with a stress on softer policies in a speech at the UN - calling for goals to reduce world poverty to be met by a global "coalition for justice".

His visit to the UN coincided with a welcome development over Darfur in the form of a pending Security Council resolution approving the despatch of a UN-led peacekeeping force - at long last.

Subtle differences

At Camp David, for a start, there was the style.

The British prime minister referred a couple of times to the issue of "climate change". Mr Bush did not

Whereas George and Tony appeared at their first Camp David news conference in casual outfits (Blair was wearing what the then British ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer noted were somewhat tight jeans), for Mr Bush and Mr Brown it was suits and ties. It's all going to be a little bit more formal.

Then there were the words. Gordon Brown called the talks "full and frank", usually a phrase reserved for rather tense exchanges.

Perhaps he did not mean that, but he omitted the personal comments attempted by Mr Bush, who tried to joke about Gordon Brown not being the "dour or awkward" Scotsman he had expected.

And the words subtly illustrated, not policy differences, but their own policy priorities and approaches.

President Bush's language was, as always, full of phrases like "the war against extremists and radicals" in Iraq and around the world

An Iranian technician works at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facilities
The Iranian nuclear issue could prove a test for US-UK relations

Prime Minister Brown deliberately described terrorism as a "crime", in an effort perhaps to demystify it and make it easier for everyone around the world, Muslims included, to oppose it.

And he tried to paint a more complex picture of Iraq by differentiating the factions - the Sunni/Shia split, the "involvement of Iran", the "large number of al-Qaeda terrorists".

However, as Mr Bush said, both agreed that this was "akin to the Cold War".

Gordon Brown also, perhaps pointedly, remarked that a further British pullback in Iraq to what is called a "overwatch" role "will be made on the military advice of our commanders on the ground".

He did not make clear whether those commanders would be British only.

He called Afghanistan the "front line against terrorism," an honour normally assigned by Mr Bush to Iraq.

The British prime minister also referred a couple of times to the issue of "climate change". Mr Bush did not.

Pressure on Iran

The point about Iraq and Afghanistan is that these are policies that Mr Brown inherited. This relationship has not yet been tested in the development of new ones.

The most difficult one could be Iran. Further sanctions are expected to be discussed at the UN in September but if there is no progress in getting Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, there could be pressure within the Bush administration for military action to be taken before the president leaves office in January 2009.

That would indeed be a test to see if the US and UK stayed together.

Nuclear connection

One must never forget in the British-American relationship the importance of nuclear weapons. Mr Brown supported the recent decision by the British government to replace its Trident nuclear weapons system with new US missiles.

The significance of these ties cannot be over-estimated and they partly explain why it is seen as essential for British prime ministers to keep more or less in step with an American president.

Even the Labour prime minister during the height of the Vietnam War, Harold Wilson, refused to criticise US policy, though he also refused to send troops.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


SEE ALSO
In full: Brown's speech at UN
31 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
Bush and Brown vow co-operation
30 Jul 07 |  Americas
UN leader asks for increased aid
02 Jul 07 |  Special Reports
World owes US a debt, says Brown
30 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
Q&A: Sudan's Darfur conflict
29 May 07 |  Africa
G8 leaders agree $50bn aid boost
08 Jul 05 |  Business

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