New York: US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown forged a unified stand on Iraq, aiming to head off talk of a splintering partnership in the face of an unpopular war.
“There’s no doubt in my mind he understands the stakes of the struggle,” Bush said of Brown after two days of talks at the tranquil presidential retreat in the mountrains near Washington on 31 July 2007.
The visit was closely watched for any sign of daylight between the president and prime minister after four years of unwavering support by Tony Blair, Brown’s predecessor. Blair was saddled with the nickname “poodle” by critics at home he felt he was too compliant with Bush’s policies, particularly in Iraq.
Brown told Bush that he shares the US view of gradually turning over security of Iraq to its own people, based on signs of clear progress and advice from military leaders.
“We have duties to discharge and responsibilities to keep in support of the democratically elected government,” Brown said of Britain’s commitment to Iraq.
Still, as the US has built up troops, Britain has been pulling them out.
Britain has around 5,500 troops based mainly on the outskirts of Basra. That’s a significant drawdown since the war began, and Brown hinted more reductions were coming.
There were also subtle but notable differences between the leaders —mainly in how they described the terrorist threat — that could end up having broader significance.
Brown maintained that “Afghanistan is the front line against terrorism,” in contrast to Bush’s common refrain the Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.
The president said the fight against terrorism is a battle of good against evil; he referred to it as struggle over ideology many times. Brown steered away from that.
“Terrorism is not a cause; it is a crime,” he said. “It is a crime against humanity.”
In deference to the US-British relationship, Bush gave Brown the treatment reserved for special leaders: a coveted overnight stay at the presidential retreat here, three meals of all-American fare and introductory talks spanning a range of weighty matters.
In Washington later, Brown visited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnel. After being introduced to the leader of the House of Represetnatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and her Republican counterpart, Rep. John Boehner, he praised the two countries’ relationship.
“I believe Winston Churchill came here, to the House, and said many years ago that our joint inheritance is a belief in liberty, a belief in opportunity for all and a belief in the dignity of every individual,” he said.
In the evening, Brown flew to New York for a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and a speech to the General Assembly on 1 August.