Bush leaves Blair empty handed

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has obtained little from US President George Bush's state visit this week, apart from words of solidarity after attacks on British targets in Istanbul.

    No rewards for being Bush's staunchest ally

    Analysts were hard pressed to see how Blair's staunch support of Bush's unpopular war in Iraq had gained the British PM any political capital at all.

     

    The president flew out of the UK on Friday afternoon after a highly choreographed day of leisure in Blair's northern constituency.

     

    "I can't see what Blair has got," Lord William Wallace, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, told AFP.

     

    He pointed at Bush's failure to budge on such tough issues as the fate of nine Britons held with some 640 other prisoners at the US military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, or the looming EU-US trade war over Bush's tariffs on imported steel.

     

    "Bush does not appear to be aware that he needs to give Blair some evident concessions in order to make Blair's position more defensible within Britain," said Wallace, who is also the opposition Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman in the House of Lords, the upper house of parliament.

     

    Prisoners and steel

     

    Blair has been Bush's staunchest supporter over the war on oil-rich Iraq, despite widespread British public opposition.

     

    The European Union, of which Britain is a member, has complained to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) about the steel tariffs, which Bush introduced in March 2002 to help the flagging US steel industry and its workers.

     

    "On Guantanamo Bay, there doesn't seem to be any movement at all; on steel tariffs, the same," added Sir Timothy Garden, a foreign relations and security analyst with the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA).

     

    Bush's three-day state visit to Britain, where he was the guest of Queen Elizabeth II, was overshadowed by the bombing of the British consulate and HSBC bank in Istanbul on Thursday, which killed at least 27 people and injured hundreds.

     

    "It looks as though it's only Tony Blair who believes in the special relationship any more"

     

    Sir Timothy Garden, 
    Royal Institute of International Affairs

    It was the worst attack on British interests since Bush and Blair invaded Saddam Hussein's Iraq in March and it appeared Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida network might have been involved.

     

    Bush and Blair publicly stood together on Thursday and vowed not to flinch in the pursuit of global terrorists and to remain in Iraq until democracy was firmly planted.

     

    But significantly, Bush failed to announce that the nine Britons at Guantanamo would be transferred to Britain for trial - a move demanded by human rights groups in Britain, who feel they will get a fairer trial on home soil.

     

    Blair said bilateral discussions on the Guantanamo detainees were continuing and the issue would be resolved "at some point soon", while admitting: "It is not going to be resolved today."

     

    A slice of Iraq

     

    Bush also failed to give a firm commitment that British companies could hope to get a bite of the $18.6 billion (15.6 billion euros) in US reconstruction contracts in Iraq, although Blair's government was optimistic.

     

    "I sincerely hope that when the $18.6 billion approved by the US Congress comes on tap, British companies will again be able to secure a significant proportion of the contracts," said Trade Minister Mike O'Brien.

     

    Amnesty Int. protesters demonstrate the plight of the Guantanamo detainees

    Blair's spokesman played down the lack of favours from Bush, maintaining that the success of his visit, which ended on Friday, should not be measured on a "shopping list basis".

     

    But the RIIA's Garden said, "It looks as though it's only Tony Blair who believes in the special relationship any more."

     

    "Bush's words on the importance of multilateralism and all of that are great," he said, referring to a foreign policy speech by the US president on Tuesday. "But his actions don't appear to suggest that this was anything more than a carefully scripted speech to say the right things in London."

     

    "Blair obviously believes in his strategy for international security to such an extent that he's not prepared to play hardball with the United States, as other powers are," he added.

    SOURCE: AFP


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