Bush, Brown Stress Commonalities

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

President Bush and the new British prime minister, Gordon Brown, presented a united front Monday on Iraq and Afghanistan, seeking to dispel suggestions that the "special relationship" between the United States and Britain would deteriorate because of the recent transfer of power in London.

"So everybody's wondering whether or not the prime minister and I were able to find common ground, to get along, to have a meaningful discussion," Bush said as he opened a joint news conference with Brown at the mountaintop presidential retreat at Camp David. "And the answer is: Absolutely."

Brown, a low-key Scotsman who succeeded Tony Blair as prime minister last month, appeared less effusive than Bush -- perhaps mindful of the political perils at home of seeming too close to the American president. While he thanked Bush for his hospitality, he did not discuss their personal relationship and he focused instead on what he described as the shared commitment in Britain and the United States to liberty and human dignity -- values, he suggested, that transcend any individual leader.

"Call it the 'special relationship'; call it, as Churchill did, the 'joint inheritance'; call it, when we meet, as a form of homecoming, as President Reagan did," Brown said. "The strength of this relationship . . . is not just built on the shared problems that we have to deal with together or on the shared history, but is built . . . on shared values."

This week's summit was the first opportunity for Bush and Brown to hold extensive conversations since Brown replaced Blair, and aides on both sides described the conversations as an opportunity for the two men to build rapport. Bush and Blair enjoyed an extremely close relationship, but Brown has had to walk a delicate line because Bush is so unpopular in Britain.

The British leader did not hide his differences with the president, describing Afghanistan as "the front line against terrorism." Bush, by contrast, has frequently described Iraq as the central front in what he calls the "war on terror."

Revisiting the issue later in the news conference, Brown adjusted his message, noting that "al-Qaeda is operating in Iraq" and adding: "There is no doubt that we've had to take very strong measures against them."

Brown avoided using the phrase "war on terror" in describing the effort to hunt down and defeat Islamic radicals. He referred to terrorism "as a crime" and "not a cause," though he went on to say that "there should be no safe haven and no hiding place for those who practice terrorist violence or preach terrorist extremism."

On Iraq, both leaders sidestepped potential differences, saying they would wait until their commanders in the field report to them this fall before making any decisions on further troop redeployments. Britain has been steadily drawing down forces since the invasion of 2003 and now has about 5,500 troops in the Basra area.

Bush said he expects Brown will keep him informed of his plans regarding the remaining troops, and he portrayed British efforts to transfer security to local forces as the approach the United States will adopt as conditions permit in Iraq.

"That's what we want to do," Bush said. "We want to be in a position where we can achieve results on the ground, so that we can be in a different posture." He said that "there's no doubt in my mind that Gordon Brown understands that failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the security of our own countries."

Brown would not commit to any time frame for removing troops and spoke of his government's "duties to discharge and responsibilities to keep in support of the democratically elected government" of Iraq.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company