Blair congratulated Bush on his re-election on Wednesday, but stressed peace in the Middle East remained the "single most pressing political challenge in the world”.

“I congratulated President Bush on his victory, and said to Senator Kerry that I thought he fought an outstanding campaign and helped make the election a true celebration of American democracy,” Blair said, after speaking to the victor and the vanquished.

“It is an important part of our own British national interest that the British prime minister protect and strengthen the bond between our two countries,” Blair added.

Challenge

Faced with growing criticism that his special relationship with Bush is a one-way affair and has not been reciprocated in areas such as the Middle East, Blair said peace in that region was the greatest challenge.

“We must be relentless in our war against terrorism and in resolving the conditions and causes on which the terrorists prey,” Blair said, conceding that the suffering of the Palestinians was a factor behind the support for organizations like the al-Qaida.

The British premier also said he would work to heal the rifts caused by the Iraq war, saying “Europe and America must build anew their alliance”.