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Last Updated: Monday, 12 November 2007, 21:39 GMT
Halfway between the US and the EU
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown said he was a "lifelong admirer" of the US

Gordon Brown's Guildhall speech shows that Britain's foreign policy remains somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic.

On this occasion, the British prime minister gave a touch on the tiller to take the British ship of state a bit closer to the American shore.

He was worried perhaps that mixed signals he and his ministers have been putting out indicated a cooling off after the heat of the Blair-Bush relationship.

He is also mindful that the French under Nicolas Sarkozy have suddenly rediscovered their taste for America. Britain might be feeling a little left out, but then it has always been the case that the prodigal son gets the warmest welcome.

"It is no secret that I am a lifelong admirer of America," Mr Brown declared with a metaphoric bow toward the White House. "I have no truck with anti-Americanism in Britain or elsewhere in Europe and I believe that our ties with America - founded on values we share - constitute our most important bilateral relationship."

Mr Brown is no Tony Blair. Tony Blair often wanted to be out ahead of US policy. Gordon Brown simply does not want to be left too far behind.

Iran sanctions proposed

He showed his loyalty over Iran, announcing that he favours a new round of sanctions both by the UN and the EU, this time against Iran's oil and gas and financial sector, if it refuses to suspend uranium enrichment.

As a sweetener he lent his support to an idea that has been doing the rounds for the last year or so - founding a nuclear fuel bank so that nations wanting to develop nuclear power can do so with a guaranteed source of fuel.

This has not satisfied Iran in the past. It's unlikely to satisfy it now.

A big question remains unanswered. Would Britain support force against Iran?

There is no proof that Iran intends to build a nuclear bomb. There is suspicion that it might. This makes any threat against Iran highly contentious since there is no clear case in international law for an attack.

The European Union and Britain

Another feature of the speech was Mr Brown's call for what he described as "Global Europe", a Europe less concerned about its internal affairs and more "outward looking, open, internationalist".

This might be seen on the continent as a rather lukewarm commitment to the European project. He gave no ringing declaration about seeking to harness the power of Europe in the world.

A big question remains unanswered. Would Britain support force against Iran?

Instead, in a paragraph about the need to "work together", he lumped the EU in with the Commonwealth (a heads of government meeting is being held next week), the UN (which he hoped would have some teeth) and Nato.

This strategy of being in lots of different clubs he called "Britain's unique place in the new world" and "hard-headed internationalism". It is a foreign policy a la carte.

Nuclear ties

When considering the relationship a British prime minister must have with the United States, it must never be forgotten that there is a not-so-secret tie binding the US and UK together.

It is the agreement, renewed only in the past year, under which the United States and Britain swap information on nuclear weapons and Britain buys US missiles for its nuclear submarines.

No British prime minister can afford to distance his or her country from the US to such an extent that the trust involved in such an arrangement is dissipated. After all, the US has given the UK the ability to destroy much of the American homeland, an act of trust with no parallel in history.

If Britain were ever regarded as an unreliable or perhaps even an ungrateful ally, the US could pull the plug.

Mr Brown does not intend to be unreliable or ungrateful.

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