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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
Tough foreign policy choices
British Prime Minister Tony Blair
He aims to maintain good relations with Europe and the US
By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Foreign policy did not loom large in this election campaign - only the issue of Europe being seized on by the political parties.

But back in office, Prime Minister Tony Blair is well aware that some foreign policy issues are becoming increasingly difficult to handle - not least Britain's triangular relationship with both Europe and the United States.

US President George Bush
President Bush has already played host the the British prime minister
So far Mr Blair has avoided the nightmare scenario in British foreign policy of being forced to make an explicit choice between the country's European Union partners and Washington.

While he had especially close personal ties with former US President Bill Clinton, even the arrival of the more conservative George Bush in the White House has not dented Tony Blair's faith that the so-called special relationship between London and Washington can sail on happily.

The close ties are based not just on personalities but on objective interests.

Bumpy times

The US and Britain have close trading and defence ties. Britain is still the most likely of America's Nato allies to commit troops to joint military operations.

For Britain, the closeness with Washington helps to define a special role for the UK around the globe, and it is a role that no British Government is likely to abandon.

But there could be bumpy times ahead.

European Commission President Romano Prodi
The EU's Romano Prodi wants Britain fully entrenched in Europe
Tensions between Europe and the United States are growing.

In the security field, there are differences on European defence, on President Bush's ambitious new missile defence plans; and fundamental divisions on key arms control treaties.

Tensions are also growing in a host of other areas, from trade to human rights. It is hard to see a global trouble-spot, from the Middle East to Asia, where the Americans and the Europeans see their interests in exactly similar terms.

Choice

The new British government may increasingly be forced to choose between conflicting European and US views.

Soon, for example, Mr Blair may have to decide if he is going to allow a key US radar station in Britain to be used for America's missile defence programme.

However, the change of control in the US Senate means that missile defence may now advance more slowly, giving Mr Blair more time to gauge European reactions to any British policy decision.

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