Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 15:47 UK

Brown denies President Obama snub


Gordon Brown: The special relationship has never been stronger

Gordon Brown has denied being snubbed by the US president after diplomatic sources told the BBC his team had been "frantic" to secure bilateral talks.

Mr Brown said he and President Barack Obama "talk all the time" and he insisted the special relationship was "strong and continues to strengthen".

No 10 said they had a wide-ranging chat after a UN dinner - understood to have taken place in the UN's kitchens.

And the White House described the claim of Mr Brown being snubbed as "absurd".

Mark Mardell
I don't mean to suggest the president has any negative feelings towards Britain, I just don't see why he would see us as all that special
Mark Mardell
BBC North America editor

Asked about the alleged snub during an interview with NBC news on Wednesday, the prime minister said: "I met President Obama last night and we had a long talk about some of the big issues affecting us and I'll be meeting him in Pittsburgh one to one.

"But of course we're meeting all the time. We're both involved in all the main meetings and talk all the time.

"I do say that the special relationship between Britain and America is strong, it continues to strengthen and I think the reason it's strong is that it's based on common values."

He later told the BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, that he and Mr Obama had "a strong personal friendship".

The prime minister, who earlier referred to his Labour colleagues as "fighters", also said he had been "right" about his actions to restructure Britain's banks and tackle the recession.

'Without foundation'

Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodward told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the reported snub was the type of "trivia" which tended to accompany prime ministerial trips abroad.

He also said if he counted the times this week the two men had already talked in New York he "would run out of fingers on one hand".

Nick Robinson
It reveals how keen Labour strategists were to play the Obama and Gordon card before their conference
Nick Robinson
BBC political editor

He was responding to the news that White House officials rejected repeated requests from Britain for a formal meeting - even though the president has held private meetings with the leaders of Japan, China and Russia.

Downing Street said reports of a snub were "completely without foundation".

A spokeswoman said "formal bilaterals were not pinned down", and added: "We have said all along that the meeting situation was fluid, but the prime minister and Barack Obama would be together and have an opportunity to meet which has happened."

Asked whether there were five requests for a bilateral meeting as has been suggested, she said that in the run-up to the trip there would have been numerous calls, but the number was not the issue.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson dismissed the story of a snub as a "rumour" that ordinary people were not interested in.

"I think it would really just strike them as, frankly, pretty juvenile to have this personality stuff substituted for what really are very serious issues that these leaders are talking about in New York," he told the BBC.

'Terrific relationship'


The White House also rejected any suggestion that Mr Brown had been given a lower priority than other leaders.

A spokesman said: "Any stories that suggest trouble in the bilateral relationship between the United States and UK are totally absurd.

"We would add that President Obama and Prime Minister Brown enjoy a terrific relationship, they speak regularly on a range of the most difficult challenges facing our two nations and meet frequently."

The spokesman pointed to "the tight and extensive work our countries carry out together to address common challenges across the globe" as evidence of the closeness of the relationship.

The row comes after Mr Obama described the Lockerbie bomber's release as a "mistake".

But Dr Robin Niblett, from think tank Chatham House, said the Obama government was "pragmatic" and understood that the decision over Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi had been a difficult one.

"I think this administration, including President Obama, was very upset by the release, but I don't think that they would make the point of trying to do a snub in retort," Dr Niblett told the BBC.

My respect for Mr Obama grows and grows, whilst Mr Brown is just an embarrassment
Darkseid, London

He said Mr Obama simply had other priorities at the summit such as working on relations with Russia and China, adding: "This was the wrong time to be pushing for a special bilateral meeting."

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the whole episode revealed how keen Labour strategists were to play "the Obama and Gordon card" before their annual party conference, which starts on Sunday.

He said: "If they hadn't been so desperate, this would never have been a story at all. After all, no other EU country's leader got a meeting with Obama."

The two leaders will co-host an event for the Friends of Democratic Pakistan in New York on Thursday.

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