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The UK and the US:
A special relationship


Seattle
Churchill and Roosevelt: the "special relationship" has its origins in the dark days of the Second World War
Britain's "special relationship" with America has been a central assumption of foreign policy for the last half century.

But, in reality, is the relationship really a one-sided affair?


From the moment of the September 11 attacks, Tony Blair announced that Britain stands "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States.

Before it had become clear what form military action would take, his message to America was simple: "We were with you at the first, we will be with you at the last."

Blair and Bush
Blair and Bush: many predicted they would not get on.
The Special Relationship - that indefinable bond of trust and co-operation between Britain and America - is back in business again, it seems, even though many had predicted that Tony Blair could never achieve the same rapport with George W Bush as he had with Bill Clinton.

War-time legacy

Forged in the dark days of the Second World War, the original "special relationship" was between Winston Churchill and the American President, Franklin D Roosevelt.

Historians have doubted whether relations between the two world leaders were quite as warm as Churchill later claimed.

Video Clip VIDEO
BBC News, 1985
Reagan and Thatcher: the high water mark of the Special Relationship
The mid-1980s saw one of the high water marks of the special relationship. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher instantly hit it off - and the personal warmth of their relationship helped take some of the sting out of the inevitable conflicts of interests which arose.

Quote Mark I knew I was talking to someone who instinctively felt and thought as I did about policies, philosophy, human nature and high ideals. Quote Mark

Margaret Thatcher on Ronald Reagan
During the Falklands War, for example, President Reagan was apparently slapped down for urging caution on Mrs Thatcher. "That's one hell of a tough lady," he is reported to have said after a particularly difficult trans-atlantic phone call.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher
Their successors - George Bush and John Major - never enjoyed the same degree of personal warmth, but Bill Clinton and Tony Blair had much more in common. Both lawyers, both Oxford-educated, Clinton and Blair were from roughly the same post-war generation.

Staff from Clinton's campaign team had helped Blair win his first General Election victory in 1997.

So, when George Bush narrowly won the Presidential election of 2000, the omens did not look good. Things did not improve when one of President Bush's first decisions was to tear up the Kyoto agreement on climate change.

Clintons and the Blairs
All trained lawyers, the Clintons and the Blairs had a lot in common.
After their first meeting at Camp David in February 2001, President Bush was asked what the two leaders had in common - he replied that they both used the same toothpaste.

Just before the World Trade Centre bombing, President Bush received the Mexican President Vicente Fox on an official visit. "The United States" he said "has no more important relationship in the world than the one we have with Mexico."

Despite all that, within minutes of the World Trade Centre attack, Tony Blair had no hesitation in identifying Britain's interests with those of the US - and offering whatever diplomatic and military help might be necessary.

In the following two months of shuttle diplomacy, it's been calculated that Tony Blair notched up 54 meetings with world leaders, travelling more than 40,000 miles from Russia to Islamabad and from Syria to New York - another example of Britain punching above its weight.

More than personalities

Audio Clip AUDIO
Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain's Ambassador to Washington, November 11, 2001
How British and American diplomats worked together in the weeks following the World Trade Centre attack
The special relationship may be about much more than whether President and Prime Minister see eye-to-eye.

Giving evidence to MPs in London within a few weeks of the World Trade Centre attack, The former US Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin said: "We've seen that policies are more important than personalities, no matter who Mr Blair would have preferred to win the presidency," he said. The British government had guaranteed itself a seat at the top table because it said, "whatever you want, whatever you need, right away."

 
AN AMERICAN HERO?:
During the flurry of diplomacy Tony Blair has been feted by the American media. "America's chief foreign ambassador to members of the emerging coalition against Osama Bin Laden" was the way the Wall Street Journal described him. "America's closest ally" said the New York Times. He has even appeared on the influential American chat show, Larry King live
The sceptics' view is that Britain is the junior partner in the special relationship: it needs to prove its usefulness to its more powerful friend.

The alternative view is that, when the chips are down, America and Britain are much more than two nations divided by a common language, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde.

Whatever the personal relations between President and Prime Minister, behind the scenes, the two countries are constantly exchanging information and intelligence. And, no doubt, the common language helps.


 ONE MAN, OPPOSING VIEWS
Quote Mark "The United States has no more important relationship in the world than the one we have with Mexico" Quote Mark

President George W Bush, welcoming his first state visitor the Mexican president Vicente Fox on September 5, 2001
Quote Mark …America has no truer friend than Great Britain" Quote Mark

George Bush, September 20, 2001

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