By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2008
The three presidential candidates took time off yesterday from campaigning to meet with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who tactfully declined an opportunity to declare a special kinship with any of the would-be successors to President Bush.
"It is for Americans to decide who their president is going to be," Brown said in a Rose Garden news conference, with the current occupant of the Oval Office by his side. "What I was convinced of, after talking to each of them and talking about the issues that concern them and concern the world, is that the relationship between America and Britain will remain strong, remain steadfast."
Brown is visiting the United States for meetings with Bush, other senior U.S. officials, Wall Street executives and others, as well as the private sessions yesterday morning with Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). The meetings were a sign of how the rest of the world, like the U.S. electorate, is fascinated by the campaign here and eager to learn how the next president might shift course from Bush.
According to British officials and aides to the U.S. candidates, the meetings yesterday touched on many of the big issues in the bilateral relationship, especially Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East peace process and the international economic slowdown, a particular concern for the prime minister, who has low approval ratings back home. The aides offered few details of the substance of the conversations, which were held without staff members present.
It was the first time Obama had met Brown, and when he showed up at the British Embassy yesterday morning he tried to break the ice by noting that he had visited Downing Street in 2005 and was able to sit in a chair once used by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a British official said. "He was very tempted to ask for a cigar and a brandy," the official quoted Obama as saying jokingly.
In a statement afterward, Obama said he and Brown discussed their commitment "to strengthen the historic transatlantic alliance, and to confront common challenges like the ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the instability in the global economy and the need to support democracy and prosperity in Africa."
Clinton, by contrast, has known Brown for years, dating back to the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton, and one of her advisers said they have spent hours discussing issues such as health care, economics and the future of center-left parties. "If Hillary were to be nominated and elected president, she and Gordon would continue and deepen their good and close relationship on a level that would benefit both countries and restore what might then once more be called a special relationship," said the adviser, journalist Sidney Blumenthal.
After meeting with the candidates, Brown was driven to the White House, where he met privately with Bush, who seemed good-natured about the prime minister's interest in meeting his successor. "One of those three has a good chance of winning," he said during the joint news conference in the Rose Garden.
If Brown is looking beyond Bush, he did not show it at the news conference: He seemed more effusive about him than he did last summer at Camp David, where his demeanor was widely interpreted in Britain as an effort to put distance between himself and the president.
"The world owes President George Bush a huge debt of gratitude for leading the world in our determination to root out terrorism and to ensure that there is no safe haven for terrorism," Brown said in his opening remarks. Later, during the questioning, his rhetoric on Iran's nuclear ambitions sounded just as sharp as Bush's: "Iran has not told the truth to the international community about what its plans are."