Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Bush offers no sweeteners to Blair

STATE VISIT George W. Bush finished his unpopular visit with a trip to Tony Blair's constituency, but British hopes for deals on tariffs and prisoners were frustrated

REUTERS , SEDGEFIELD, UNITED KINGDOM

US President George W. Bush, left, walks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Myrobella, Blair's constituency home in County Durham, on Friday.

PHOTO: EPA

George W. Bush and Tony Blair sealed their alliance with fish and chips at Blair's neighborhood pub on Friday, trying to relax after a tumultuous summit of pageantry, protest and violence in the Middle East.

But despite repeating his vows of loyalty to Bush's "war on terror" and the war in Iraq, Blair came away with no concessions from Washington on the major political issues of the summit: trade and the treatment of British prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Bush promised only to continue looking into the issue of US tariffs on imported steel -- which hurt British business and which the WTO says are illegal -- and the issue of British prisoners held at the camp in Cuba.

The leaders may once have hoped Bush's trip to England -- the first time an American president was awarded all the honors of a full state visit -- would amount to a victory celebration after their war in Iraq.

Bush spent three nights at Buckingham Palace as guest of Queen Elizabeth, was honored with a 41-gun artillery salute and a parade of red-coated soldiers in black bearskin hats.

But suicide attacks in Turkey on Thursday -- with Britain's top diplomat in Istanbul among the 27 dead -- turned the visit into a crisis summit. Hours later, more than 100,000 anti-war demonstrators poured into the streets of London, toppling a statue of Bush in an echo of Saddam Hussein.

Both leaders vowed that the attacks in Istanbul, which struck the British consulate and the office of Britain's largest bank, would only reinforce their determination to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against terrorism and in Iraq.

The attacks were widely blamed on al-Qaeda militants and suspected to have been a strike on America's closest ally that was timed to coincide with Bush's visit.

"I'm fortunate to have a friend like Tony Blair. America's fortunate to have friends like the people of Great Britain," Bush told reporters at a sports school in Sedgefield, the small country town Blair represents in parliament.

"The people of Great Britain have got grit and strength and determination, and are willing to take on a challenge. And we're being challenged. We're being challenged by killers, cold-blooded killers. And we're going to prevail."

Bush's visit to the countryside at the close of the trip may have been planned to appear low-key, along the lines of his no-neckties summits at his West Texas ranch. He lunched at the local Dun Cow Inn and tossed a soccer ball with some kids.

But fallout from the bloodshed in Istanbul and news of fresh attacks in Iraq kept the men under pressure seemingly until the moment Bush finally boarded Air Force One to head home.

The presence of more than 1,000 police locking down the sleepy countryside town meant the tensions never seemed to ease.

Around 300 anti-war protesters stood waiting for Bush on the village green near Sedgefield's 13th-century parish church, in an echo of Thursday's mass march in London.

"To defeat terrorism, the US is creating more of the same," said retired engineer Malcolm Jones, 58.

Bush and Blair had woken to news of more attacks on Friday.

Guerrillas fired rockets into Iraq's oil ministry compound and two hotels used by foreign contractors and journalists in the latest strikes on targets linked to the US-led occupation.

Reinforcing the sense of siege, Britain's top police officer John Stevens said London would remain on high alert for the foreseeable future -- and had already faced direct threats in the British capital that his force had foiled.

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