1 July 2007 11:05


By Andrew Grice, Political Editor at Camp David

Published: 31 July 2007




Gordon Brown has paved the way for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq by telling George Bush he would not delay their exit in order to show unity with the United States.

After four hours of one-to-one talks with the US President at his Camp David retreat, Mr Brown told a joint press conference he would make a Commons statement in October on the future of the 5,500 British troops in the Basra region.

The Bush administration, under mounting domestic pressure to produce an exit strategy from Iraq, has been nervous that a full British withdrawal would add to the criticism. But Mr Brown made clear – and President Bush accepted – that Britain would go its own way, even if that gave the impression the two countries were diverging.

Mr Brown’s willingness to pursue an independent British policy in Iraq will be seen as an important break with Tony Blair. Mr Brown said the two leaders had had “full and frank discussions” – diplomatic code for some disagreements.

President Bush heaped praise on Mr Brown after their first meeting since he became Prime Minister, playing down suggestions that Mr Blair’s departure would weaken the strong US-UK partnership. Revealingly, Mr Brown did not return the personal compliments, instead focusing on the historic links between the two countries and predicting they would get even stronger. This reflected his desire for a more business-like relationship with the President, instead of the strong personal bond forged by Mr Blair.

The two leaders also had to paper over their different approaches on how to respond to terrorism. While maintaining a united front, Mr Brown told President Bush that the fight could not be won by military might alone, and called for a “Cold War-style” propaganda battle in the Muslim world.

Deliberately avoiding the phrase “war on terror,” Mr Brown said: “Terrorism is not a cause but a crime – a crime against humanity.” In contrast, the President spoke of “this war against extremists and radicals”. But he said of Mr Brown: “There is no doubt in my mind that he understands the stakes in the struggle.”

On Iraq, Mr Brown insisted Britain would honour its responsibilities but admitted there had been problems with political reconciliation and that the reconstruction effort had taken longer than expected.

He said that Britain’s decision in the Basra region would be based on the military advice from its commanders on the ground. Later, British officials insisted that the departure timetable was not being accelerated and said it was too soon to speculate on the plans that would be set out in October. Initially, they would mean handing military control to the Iraqis and moving to “overwatch”.

However, President Bush acknowledged that a British withdrawal could take place while the US remained in Iraq because, he said, decisions would be “results-orientated”. He said America could be there for “a long time”. He added that America’s next moves would be decided after a report in September by General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, on the “surge” of US troops in the Baghdad region.

But despite their differences over Iraq and terrorism, the two leaders agreed to work together to end the stalemate over a new world trade agreement, to resolve the crisis in Darfur and impose a new round of sanctions against Iran unless it halts its nuclear weapons programme.

Bush on Brown

* “I would describe Gordon Brown as a principled man who really wants to get something done.”

* “Not a dour Scot …not an awkward Scot…a humorous Scot.”

* “He’s got a strong commitment to helping people realize the blessing of education. I thank you very much for that vision.”

* “He’s a glass half full man.”

* [Referring to the death of Brown’s 10 day old baby in 2002]

“He’s a man who’s suffered unspeakable tragedy – it’s strengthened his soul.

I was impressed.”

Brown on Bush

* “We have had full and frank discussions. We have had the capacity and ability to meet yesterday for two hours to discuss person-to-person some of the great issues of our time.”

%d bloggers like this: