Tony Blair: A Friend of Bill Tries to Become a Buddy of Dubya

  • Share
  • Read Later

British prime minister Tony Blair and wife Cherie arrive in the U.S.

On Friday, President Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair headed to Camp David for a 24-hour tête-à-tête. The two men, who have never met face to face, are expected to spend a fair amount of time on the symbolic "getting to know you" rituals, but, says TIME's London bureau chief J.F.O. McAllister, who is in Washington to cover the meeting, the pleasantries are only the preamble to a serious trans-Atlantic debate. What are the key issues at this meeting?

McAllister: Fundamentally, this is a "Hi, I'm your friend" meeting. The most important issue here, for both men, is establishing a copacetic working relationship. Blair was obviously identified as a friend of Clinton's, but it's very important for him to show everyone at home and in Europe that he can get along with Bush.

Blair wants the much-vaunted "special relationship" between the Americans and the British to continue. Earlier this week, Blair told a group of U.S. journalists, "Look, I am Bill Clinton's friend and I will always be his friend, but you can have more than one friend." Blair very much wants the U.K. to be a bridge between the U.S. and Europe.

Another key issue, of course, is last week's bombing of Iraq. That Blair was willing to stand behind the bombing despite opposition from the French and the Russians definitely shows Bush that hey, Blair is still your buddy — and don't you forget it.

They'll also talk about the U.S. plans for nuclear missile defense. Europe doesn't like the plan. Generally, they don't think the nuclear threat is that pressing, so they view this push as another example of the military industrial complex gone amok, a continuation of Reagan's Star Wars policy.

The other main issue on the agenda is European plans to create a Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), a defense force that Bush fears will weaken NATO. But the RRF has been in the works for years and in high gear for at least a year, and the Europeans are determined to go forward with this. Blair, unlike some other European leaders, strikes a conciliatory pose on this issue, and says the RRF will be used only if NATO is not involved, and emphasizes that there is no conflict with NATO. Bush is not yet convinced.

What does Blair have to gain from this "special relationship"?

McAllister: Everybody has an interest in making relations between the U.S. and the E.U. work. But for the U.K., the special relationship is based in culture, history and domestic politics. Blair feels very strongly that this relationship is the key to the political landscape of the 21st century.