Tue, Nov 25, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Few gains for Bush or Blair in British visit

The two leaders' hopes of cementing their cooperation was overshadowed by the Istanbul bombings and anti-war protests

By Lyndsay Griffiths  /  REUTERS , LONDON

Good friends US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair could be forgiven for heaving a sigh of relief on Friday at the end of a state visit hijacked by carnage in the Middle East.

Bush certainly won't like his holiday snaps from London, where baying protesters toppled his effigy in the hope he goes the same way as former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Blair will not relish coming away empty-handed from a visit he had hoped would demonstrate the extent of his influence in Washington.

And both were clearly shaken by the savagery of the Istanbul bombings, almost certainly timed to coincide with the visit.

"If Bush and Blair hoped to celebrate -- what was there to celebrate? Nothing. Despite the government in Afghanistan being got rid of and the Iraq regime being toppled, things are as bad as they ever were," said John Curtice, politics professor at Strathclyde University.

The American perspective was no rosier.

"It's a ... serious time for them that the niceness of the state visit doesn't really mask," said Jeff McAllister, London bureau chief of Time magazine. "I would have thought Bush would have done more for Blair on a visit like this."

But gifts were few and far between.

To be sure, Bush gave White House-themed china to his hostess Queen Elizabeth. She reciprocated with a ruler bearing the names of presidents past -- and an undercover newspaper reporter posing as a footman in his palace suite.

Blair was left out of the present-giving, with a range of rows, from trade to Guantanamo detainees, unresolved.

"Blair got nothing from Bush," said Michael Cox of the London School of Economics' International Relations faculty.

"I don't think anybody will particularly benefit from this trip. But the massive anti-war demonstration was certainly ignored because of the bombings," Cox said.

Truck bombs in Turkey that killed 27 and injured more than 400 others grabbed headlines from the 110,000 protesters who swarmed through London on Thursday to demonstrate against Bush's war policy and cosy alliance with Blair.

The fact that UK targets were hit on the day Bush was in London was not lost on the protesters, many of whom blamed Bush and the Anglo-American war in Iraq for seeding terrorism.

"The bombing in Istanbul totally changed the dynamic. It distracted everyone from what was the largest weekday march in British history," said Rachel Briggs of the Demos think tank.

"You scan the papers and it's pictures of wounded victims as opposed to the marches. It shifted attention away from more awkward questions," she said.

Bush and Blair rejected suggestions the prime minister had come away empty handed from the Bush visit.

"It's not like there's some payback that's going to be given to us. It's not about that," Blair said as the two leaders talked with reporters shortly before Bush left for home.

"People sometimes talk about this alliance between Britain and the United States as if it were a scorecard. It isn't. It's an alliance of values. It's an alliance of common interests," he said.

From the U.S. perspective, Bush takes nothing concrete home -- bar some footage of royal pomp for the voters -- but will hope to have shown Europe he cares enough to court its support for occupation of Iraq and the uphill battle against global terror.

One US official said that while it is too early to judge European reaction to what they considered an impressive Bush foreign policy speech, "certainly the message is out."

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