But in practical terms, the relationship remains extremely close, with Cameron and Obama conferring by phone as often as twice a month. In a sign that the partnership is only deepening, the two leaders are poised to unveil a new joint “security council” this week, formally organizing high level contacts for intelligence sharing and policy coordination.
“It is not just a special relationship but an essential relationship,” Cameron said Monday in a conversation with journalists from U.S. media outlets.
President Barack Obama's limo got stuck exiting the U.S. Embassy in Ireland on his way to a speech in Dublin. Secret Service agents hid the car from public view while they freed the car's tires. (May 23)
Cameron praised Obama as “courageous and serious,” crediting him for the same pensive, well-considered manner that has sometimes generated criticism of the president in the United States.
Yet experts nevertheless point to disagreement between Washington and London on some key issues, most notably the desire by Britain and France to see stepped-up U.S. involvement in Libya — a topic Cameron is likely to press Obama on this week.
Meanwhile, Britain — just like the United States — has been shifting its diplomacy away from nurturing existing relationships with allies and toward improving ties with emerging economic powers like India, Brazil and Turkey. There are also differences in how Britain and the United States view China, which is seen here as less of a military and strategic threat, and more as an economic opportunity.
But the military partnership remains the core of the alliance. First and foremost in their talks this week, officials say, will be the need for Obama and Cameron to choreograph the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Cameron raised alarms in Washington by revealing plans two weeks ago for the early withdrawal of at least 400 British troops by next February — a decision apparently made public before deep consultations with his U.S. partners. The military cuts, experts say, are set to test that relationship further.
“There is considerable anxiety in Washington over the strategic implications of these sharp defense cuts, and I’m not sure the extent of that unease is fully appreciated here,” said Nigel Bowles, director of the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford University. “I would be surprised if that was not made more clear in the diplomatic exchanges this week.”
Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.