Brown and Bush reignite that special relationship

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Thursday night set the seal on a new phase in Britain’s special relationship with the United States when he won ringing endorsements from the present and future generations of American leaders.

In a light-hearted appearance in the White House rose garden, US President George Bush hailed Brown as a ”good friend” whose response to last summer’s terror attack at Glasgow airport had been ”brilliant”.

Bush showed that he had moved on from his first frosty encounter with Brown as prime minister at Camp David last July when he joked that only a true friend earned the right to be served a hamburger at the White House.

”False,” Bush said when asked whether the special relationship had chilled after the departure of Tony Blair. ”We have a great relationship. If it weren’t a personal relationship, I wouldn’t be inviting the man to a nice hamburger — well done, I might add.”

Brown, whose wife, Sarah, joined the president and Laura Bush for dinner in the White House on Thursday night, was equally effusive, though he lacked the light touch. ”I am very proud to be here today to celebrate a special relationship. In 1941, Winston Churchill met Franklin Roosevelt and inaugurated what is the modern phase of our special relationship.”

Bush’s endorsement was echoed shortly before the prime minister arrived at the White House, when Barack Obama issued a warm message saying he expected the prime minister to remain in office for years to come.

Obama, one of the three presidential candidates to meet Brown at the British ambassador’s residence, said: ”The prime minister has been a critically important partner for the United States and I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead to enhance the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.”

Downing Street was delighted by the endorsement. To be praised by the man fast replacing Bill Clinton as the labour movement’s favourite politician will, aides hope, help Brown with his party.

After meeting the putative presidents, Brown expressed his confidence that the special relationship would survive the November presidential election. ”What I am convinced of after talking to each of them … is that the relationship between America and Britain will remain strong and will remain steadfast.”

Amid the photo calls and the banter, Brown made clear that the two powers will focus on the serious issues of Iran and the fight against terrorism during the president’s final months in office.

Bush and Brown indicated that a tougher stance is likely to be taken against Iran after Silvio Berlusconi’s victory in the Italian election. Downing Street believes this will lead to a greater consensus for a tougher approach by the European Union.

Bush dismissed Iran’s argument that its nuclear activities were intended only for a civilian energy programme. ”If that’s the case, why did they have a secret programme?” he asked.

Brown said: ”I make no apology for saying that we will extend sanctions where possible on Iran. Iran is in breach of a non-proliferation treaty. Iran has not told the truth to the international community about what its plans are.”

The two also joined in condemning the behaviour of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, over the delayed election results. Bush said: ”You can’t have elections unless you put the results out. What kind of election is it?” Echoing calls made the day before by Brown at the United Nations, he called on African leaders to put pressure on Mugabe.

Brown was to conclude his visit on Friday with a speech on foreign policy at the John F Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston. He was to use the occasion to intensify his campaign for the reform of the world’s financial and political institutions.

He is likely to build on proposals he outlined in a speech in Delhi in January, in which he said Britain and other affluent countries should do more to recognise the role that countries such as India, China and Brazil play. — Â

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Ewen Macaskill
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