Brown to walk careful line in meeting with Bush

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was expected to walk a fine line in talks on Monday with President George W. Bush, keeping some distance on issues like Iraq while preserving the ”special relationship” with the United States.

During their two-day meeting at the Camp David retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, Brown was set to seek support for a package of measures to try to end the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The Iraq war, concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme, climate change and the effort to revive the Doha round of world trade talks will also be on the agenda.

The Camp David meeting is the first between the new British prime minister and Bush since Brown succeeded Tony Blair last month.

The reserved, somewhat formal Brown is seen as unlikely to form the kind of close bond that his gregarious predecessor had with Bush. At their first meeting, Bush famously remarked that he and Blair used the same brand of toothpaste.

Brown will be keen to avoid any association with the label of ”America’s poodle” that the British media gave Blair, who stood shoulder to shoulder with Bush after the September 11 2001 attacks and during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Blair’s closeness to Bush angered the British public and contributed to his decision to step down early.

Still, US and British officials have sought to play down any notion of a cooling in ties between their countries.

As Brown arrived at Camp David on Sunday evening, he told Bush he was glad to be there because of the history associated with the retreat.

Speculation over Iraq

The two dined together and on Monday they were to hold more meetings, followed by a news conference and a lunch of cheeseburgers, french fries and banana pudding.

Speculation that Brown may want to end Britain’s military involvement in Iraq resurfaced on Sunday with a report in the Sunday Times newspaper that Brown’s chief foreign policy adviser had sounded out US foreign policy experts on the possibility of an early British withdrawal.

Brown’s spokesperson said the prime minister would not unveil a plan to pull out British troops and said there had been no change in the government’s position.

Aides to Brown say he wants to focus on ending the Darfur conflict and breaking a deadlock in the global trade talks.

Brown, with the support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is proposing a package of measures to try to end the conflict in Darfur.

It includes a United Nations Security Council resolution for an African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force, an immediate ceasefire, restarting a peace process and an economic aid package for Darfur, a British government source said.

It would also hold out the threat of sanctions against the Sudanese government if it failed to cooperate.

Brown will meet Democrat and Republican congressional leaders in Washington on Monday afternoon, his spokesperson said.

On Tuesday, Brown will hold talks with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York and give a speech at the world body. – Reuters

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Adrian Croft
Adrian Croft works from London, England. Reuters sub-editor in London. Previously Reuters European Defence Editor in Brussels and before that reported from UK, Spain, U.S., Latin America, South Africa. Adrian Croft has over 929 followers on Twitter.

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