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Wednesday, February 4, 1998 Published at 20:30 GMT


World affairs and Winnie the Pooh on Blair's agenda
image: [ Bill Clinton and Tony Blair will use the three days at the White House to discuss several world issues ]
Bill Clinton and Tony Blair will use the three days at the White House to discuss several world issues

President Clinton is putting aside the sex scandal which has overwhelmed the White House so he can talk about world issues with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is visiting Washington.

Mr Blair, who leaves behind his own problems in the form of Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's affair, has given Mr Clinton his complete support in what has been a difficult time for the president.

The pair will spend most of the time focusing on major international issues such as Iraq, the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

But there are also plans for a political brainstorming session involving British ministers, American strategists and academics in which Mr Blair and Mr Clinton will seek to plot the way ahead for the left-of-centre.

Looking for third way

Among the topics is how to build the "stakeholder" economy mentioned by Mr Blair during last year's election campaign - a third way between a laissez-faire free-market policy and intrusive state intervention.

The two leaders will focus on the Iraq issue in talks on Thursday but there is an increasing consensus that a military strike is at least two weeks away.

Mr Blair will also be looking for stronger Congressional support for his policy on Northern Ireland during the trip.

Solid as a rock

He described the President as "absolutely solid as a rock" over Northern Ireland and rejected suggestions floated by former US ambassador to London, Ray Seitz, that he could not be trusted not to leak intelligence to the IRA.

[ image: Hillary Clinton: hosting lunch]
Hillary Clinton: hosting lunch
Mrs Blair will attend a lunch on Thursday hosted by Hillary Clinton and attended by 40 senior women lawyers. She also plans to visit the Supreme Court.

Aside from Iraq, Northern Ireland and the Lewinsky affair, Mr Blair has a far more pressing matter on his agenda: the campaign to free the "Winnie the Pooh Five" from their New York "prison" and bring them home.

Bring home Winnie the Pooh

The original stuffed animals on which AA Milne's classic stories were based have been sitting in a glass case at New York Public Library for 70 years.

Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody is leading the campaign to bring Winnie, Tigger, Kanga, Eeyore and Piglet back to Britain.

She has tabled a Commons question to Chris Smith, Culture Secretary, asking what plans he has to arrange for their repatriation.

Mrs Dunwoody, who represents Crewe, says: "They are part of our heritage and they want to come home. I saw them recently and they look very unhappy indeed."

She said the illustrator Ernest Howard Shepard based his drawings on the animals and added: "Just like the Greeks want their Elgin Marbles back so we want our Winnie the Pooh back, along with all his splendid friends."

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