Page last updated at 23:05 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 00:05 UK

Beleaguered Brown seeks US fillip

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Gordon Brown and George Bush
For Gordon Brown, a challenging trip to the US

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown's visit to the US this week comes at an awkward time for American-British relations but does offer some opportunity for him to regain stature as a financial leader.

Apart from meeting President Bush, he will see financiers on Wall Street as well as the three leading contenders for the US presidency, Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama.

He will also make a speech about international financial reform - and the need for US leadership in that - in Boston.

It will not be easy for Mr Brown to steer a course between old and new. Nobody yet knows the future direction of US foreign policy.

Equally, the candidates have not yet fully formed their views of where the UK, and Europe as a whole, fits into their vision of the world.

'Difficult task'

At the moment, Gordon Brown's standing at home is suffering, as, like others, the British economy takes a downturn after the US credit crisis.

According to former British ambassador to the US Sir Christopher Meyer, now chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Mr Brown should concentrate on issues of finance in an attempt to improve his standing back home.

"He wants to avoid Iraq as sure as anything. He can tell President Bush that Britain will stay the course, but that might clash with Senators Clinton and Obama, who are calling for an end to the war.

"Unlike President Sarkozy, who went to the US with the clear intention of improving Franco-American relations, Brown faces a more difficult task, really difficult actually. Who is his audience? The administration has only months to go and he can't show favouritism among the candidates.

"Relations with the US are in the doldrums.

"He should therefore play to his strengths in international financial affairs."

Mr Brown's approach to the economic crisis was seen in a briefing given by his spokesman, who said that the prime minister was "taking action globally to try to restart the world trade talks but also to try to take action to improve confidence... so we could inject more liquidity into global financial markets."

Lack of liquidity - that means funds available for lending - is seen as one of the main reasons for the inter-war world economic crash. Improving liquidity has been one of the main weapons in the current crisis. Protectionism also played its part in the crash, which explains Mr Brown's concentration on world trade talks.

Iraq problems

Relations between the US and UK are in the doldrums not just because Gordon Brown is obviously not as close to President Bush as was Tony Blair.

Gordon Brown's relations with George Bush are the bare minimum expected of a British prime minister

Con Coughlin
Daily Telegraph

There has recently been a real problem in Basra, where the Iraqi government ordered a sudden offensive by the Iraqi army and ignored the British force still there.

A leading American military commentator, Frederick Kagan, whose idea more than a year ago for a troop surge not a withdrawal were adopted by the Bush administration, has accused Britain of abandoning Basra.

Con Coughlin, who has written several books on Saddam Hussein and is now with the Daily Telegraph, says British commanders were infuriated and that the episode highlights Gordon Brown's problems over Iraq.

"Gordon Brown's relations with George Bush are the bare minimum expected of a British prime minister," he said.

"Basically, Brown's attitude is that Iraq was Blair's problem, not his. So the British troops in Basra are confined to barracks. Brown is risk averse. The troops are in a ludicrous position. Brown doesn't want disobliging headlines.

"The Iraqi government has apparently lost faith in the British and called in the US 82nd Airborne to help and not the British troops left in Basra for that very reason.

"British commanders now say they have better things to do - the war in Afghanistan among them - than being humiliated in Basra."

Whether Mr Brown's financial comments have any influence back home - Americans will be watching the Pope's visit more than his - will be the test.

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