Brown: I can bring Europe and US closer together

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday embraced one of Tony Blair’s most controversial legacies when he cast himself as the leader best placed to bring Europe and the United States together after the bitter divisions over Iraq.

As he prepared to fly to the US on a three-day visit, Brown lavished praise on US leaders across the spectrum and said he hoped to bring them closer to his European colleagues.

His remarks in an interview with CBS, which are likely to draw comparisons with Blair’s attempts to cast himself as the bridge across the Atlantic, were aimed both at President George Bush and future US leaders as Brown praised all three presidential candidates.

Brown hailed John McCain, the Republican candidate, as a “great hero of his time” and praised Hillary Clinton for her “very strong argument” about how to deal with the economic downturn. The prime minister admitted that it was “an accident” that he had yet to meet Barack Obama but praised the Democratic front-runner for enthusing apathetic voters.

Brown’s remarks about the candidates were designed to be studiously neutral before separate meetings he will hold with them in Washington on Thursday. But his praise for future US leaders—coupled with warm words about Bush, who will host Brown at the White House on Thursday—was designed to underline his enthusiasm to build a new version of the Blair bridge.

Brown refrained from using the same analogy as his predecessor but made clear his intentions as he offered his wholehearted support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and pointedly remarked that Europe had failed to support Bush.

He said: “European leadership did not support President Bush in Iraq other than Britain and one or two other countries, but we want a better relationship with America and I feel I can bring Europe and America closer together for the future. That will be to the advantage of all of us, to deal with economic problems, climate change and help make for a more peaceful world in the future.”

He acknowledged the deep differences over Iraq, but said that Europe and the US were united by common values. “What unites us is shared values. The belief in liberty and freedom, the sense we can together work for justice is common to the people of the United States of America and the peoples of Europe and many other parts of the world.”

Brown, who was said by critics to have offered less than enthusiastic support for Blair over Iraq until the eve of the 2003 invasion, made it clear that he fully supported the decision.

Asked whether he was as supportive as Blair over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Brown said: “Yes. We’re moving to a position in Afghanistan where, as I say, more than 40 countries are now involved. When it comes to Iraq, it has been a more disputed issue because some of our European colleagues have not come down the same road as we’ve gone.”

Brown will discuss Iraq and Afghanistan with Bush when they meet on Thursday. Some members of the US administration have been irritated by the dramatic reduction in British troops in Iraq. But Brown said there would be no hasty reductions after the recent violence in Basra.

Speaking of Britain’s decision to slow down the troop reductions, he said: “We put it on hold because there was tension in Basra itself. President [Nouri] al-Maliki had brought his own troops in, asserted power against the militias. We wanted to make sure the situation was stable again before we reduced our troops. Our plan is to reduce the numbers, as we’ve announced, over a period of time, but the role we’re playing is already quite different.”

At Brown’s meeting with Bush at Camp David last summer he placed some distance between himself and Blair by hailing Britain’s special relationship with the US as its most important bilateral link, but offering little praise for Bush.

The British leader’s warmer words about the president—and his enthusiasm for the presidential candidates—indicate that he has moved back towards Blair’s more personal approach.

Brown was to kick off his visit on Wednesday by taking part in a debate on Africa at the United Nations Security Council, before visiting Bush at the White House on Thursday.

He will make a foreign policy speech in Boston on Friday.

On the candidates

The prime minister was asked by CBS about all the candidates.

On John McCain: “He’s a great hero of his time for the courage he showed in Vietnam and subsequently.”

On Hillary Clinton: “Clearly, Hillary Clinton is putting forward a very strong argument about what action has to be taken to deal with the downturn in America and what has to be done to deal with, particularly, the problem of people who are losing their mortgages.”

On Barack Obama: “There’s no doubt he has engaged a group of people in political action and consultation in America that previously had not been engaged.”

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