British Prime Minister Gordon Brown flew into Washington on Sunday night for his first meeting with US President George W. Bush as prime minister, determined to shift the focus away from Iraq toward less divisive issues such as trade and Darfur.
Brown, who was scheduled to hold formal talks yesterday with Bush and his team at Camp David, the presidential weekend retreat, lavished praise on Bush, particularly his efforts toward achieving a world trade deal and stopping the genocide in Sudan.
In a statement to journalists travelling with him on the plane, Brown said the US-British relationship was founded on common values of liberty, opportunity and the dignity of the individual.
"And because of the values we share, the relationship with the United States is not only strong, but can become stronger in the years ahead," he said.
Brown is intent on sustaining a juggling act in which he maintains the alliance with the US while showing it is not as tight as under former prime minster Tony Blair. He stressed that he had many friends in the US, visited the country frequently and regarded the alliance "as the single most important bilateral relationship that Britain enjoyed."
He was to fly by helicopter from Andrews Air Force Base near Washington to Camp David in Maryland for a one-to-one dinner with Bush on Sunday night. Yesterday, after the formal talks end, he was to visit Congress, where he was to meet Democratic leaders as well as Republicans.
On the plane, Brown's spokesman insisted the UK policy on Iraq remained unchanged and that there would be no precipitous withdrawal of British forces.
But the US administration views a recent visit by Brown's chief foreign affairs spokesman, Simon McDonald, as preparation for a speedier pull-out.
While senior Bush administration officials say publicly that they have seen no significant policy changes by Brown that would affect the alliance, in private they have expressed unhappiness with the prime minister's rebuttal of Bush's repeated phrase "war on terror" and on his appointment of a Bush critic, Lord Malloch Brown, to the UK Foreign Office.
Also on the agenda for the Camp David meeting are Iran and European missile defense. Britain's strained relationship with Russia is not on the agenda. The US regards the tension over the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko as a bilateral issue and has its own differences with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On the plane, Brown tried to highlight a new range of issues other than Iraq, saying the shared values and shared destiny "give strength to work together to face down every challenge ahead -- from the danger of nuclear proliferation, global poverty, climate change to today the biggest single and immediate challenge the world has to defeat, global terrorism".
Today Brown will travel to the UN, where he is to meet UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and give a speech on the millennium goals, the UN targets for universal primary education and poverty reduction.
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