PM seeks joint crisis front with Obama

LONDON Sun Mar 1, 2009 11:30pm GMT

In this file photo, Prime Minister Gordon Brown (R) walks with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama through Horseguards Parade behind 10 Downing Street in London, July 26, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young

In this file photo, Prime Minister Gordon Brown (R) walks with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama through Horseguards Parade behind 10 Downing Street in London, July 26, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

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LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown hopes to forge an alliance this week with U.S. President Barack Obama to combat the global financial crisis and reinforce what London calls its special relationship with Washington.

Brown will be the first European leader to meet Obama since he was inaugurated in January when they hold talks on Tuesday in Washington. He hopes cooperation over the economic crisis will mirror cooperation on security, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But political analysts say he should limit his expectations of the visit, which comes at a time of anxiety in Britain over the relationship with Washington.

They say Britain's ability to play a lead role is limited by the depth of its own economic crisis, and a much broader alliance is needed than one between two countries whose policies have been partly blamed for the crisis. Washington's attention is increasingly on Asia rather than Europe, they say.

Brown wants to build a consensus on action to counter the financial crisis before he hosts a summit of the Group of 20 industrialised and emerging nations in London on April 2.

"President Obama and I will discuss this week a global new deal, whose impact can stretch from the villages of Africa to reforming the financial institutions of London and New York," Brown wrote in the Sunday Times.

He favours coordinated measures to stabilise the world economy, reform regulation of the banking system and increase the International Monetary Fund's firepower to help countries hard hit by the crisis.

Reginald Dale, senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Obama would listen to Brown, a former finance minister who was among the first western heads of government to propose a sweeping state rescue programme to rescue crisis-hit banks and revive dwindling lending.

"He (Obama) will know that Brown is beavering hard to be one of the leaders of the world economic recovery and that he has some economic credentials -- although the British economy at the moment is not much of a testimonial to them," Dale said.

RISE OF ASIA

Nigel Bowles, director of Oxford University's Rothermere American Institute, said Brown and Obama were not in a position to control the agenda, and the United States would have to look elsewhere for its most important partnership in coming decades.

"The agenda is one of financial crisis leeching into the real economy, and both of those elements ... have to be dealt with over the course of the next 18 to 24 months," he said.

The economic crisis has underlined the growing importance of Asia in the world economy, and this could make Britain and the rest of Europe less important to Washington.

"The key relationship of the United States is with China over the next 10, 20 and perhaps 50 years and ... I think he (Obama) is going to avert America's gaze from Europe to Asia in general and to China in particular."

Even so, some British officials have portrayed Obama's decision to meet Brown before other European leaders as a sign of the importance he attaches to the relationship with Britain.

The alliance was strong under Obama's and Brown's predecessors, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, who formed a close bond after the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

Blair backed Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and sent troops to join U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Brown, aware that many Britons opposed the Iraq war and felt Blair was subservient to Bush, was cooler in his dealings with Bush.

But analysts say the U.S.-British relationship is set to remain close -- not only because of language and cultural affinities, but also due to strong trade and investment ties.

Mike Gapes, chairman of the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the alliance would continue to be "A special relationship, not THE special relationship."

The United States and Britain work closely on international issues such as restraining Iran's nuclear programme, and Britain has the second largest foreign contingent in Afghanistan.

Obama is sending 17,000 more U.S. troops to combat an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan and the United States is urging NATO allies in Europe to do more there.

Dana Allin, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said a special U.S.-British relationship existed "in a certain sense ... but not in terms that define it now in every sense as more important than relations with the French or the Germans."

(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Kevin Liffey)

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