Obama To Meet With British Prime Minister Brown

The global economic crisis tops the agenda as President Barack Obama meets with Britain's prime minister Tuesday. Gordon Brown is the first European leader to visit the new president. Brown will also address Congress during his U.S. visit.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The president is meeting this week with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has arrived in Washington for talks. He will be addressing Congress tomorrow. Now before he left Britain, Mr. Brown said that he wanted a global New Deal for the world economy - which sounds impressive, but what's it mean? Let's try to find out from NPR's Rob Gifford, who's in London. Rob, what do you think?

ROB GIFFORD: Well, good question, Steve. I think a lot of people here are trying to work out the details of that, and that's really the big question as Mr. Brown goes into talks with President Obama. He has been talking about some of these very grandiose schemes, you know, echoing FDR's New Deal of the 1930s and the global depression then.

We know that he wants to look very closely at all sorts of financial issues like the regulation of banks and the more detailed international regulation of banks, which has been one of the problems over the last few months. He wants more of a role for the International Monetary Fund to help poor countries who are hit by this economic downturn. But really, I think one of the key issues today is to try and put some of the meat, if you like, onto those bones and onto the rhetoric, which has been quite high and mighty, if you like. But we haven't really seen the details yet.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask you one question about that, Rob Gifford. This is a guy who is an economic expert who was Britain's equivalent of a finance minister before he became prime minister. But, of course, Britain has had its own economic troubles. Is he seen as somebody with the moral authority to lead the world to some better place in the economy?

GIFFORD: Well, in Britain, that depends which side of the political divide you're on. Of course, the opposition, the conservative party is saying he was one of the reasons we got into this mess in the first place because of his deregulation during the '90s during the Blair years, and allowing the boom to go on too long and too far.

But I think even his detractors say that he knows something about the economy. He's got a PhD. He's ferociously intelligent. And at the end of last year, it was he who was the first global leader to really say we need to step in with a government bailout. We need to come in and backup the banks, which is indeed what the United States then followed up and did.

So I think he knows what he's talking about. And as I say, it will be just about getting some of those details for the little guy, the guy on the ground who can't pay his mortgage. That's the thing that people are looking for now, not the highfalutin language which makes him look good on the world stage.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Rob Gifford in London on this day when Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in the United States. What does this visit tell us about U.S.-U.K. relations, Rob?

GIFFORD: Well, I think Downing Street, the prime minister's office in Britain, has been quietly happy that Gordon Brown is the first European leader to go to the Oval Office to meet President Obama. Of course, that is an honor. And I suppose that does echo the special relationship, as it's seen here, at least, that the U.S. and the U.K. have.

But interestingly, Gordon Brown, before he left last night, said in the past, British prime ministers have gone to the United States to talk about war. I'm going to talk about stability and about the future. So he would seem to be drawing a line very much under the Bush-Blair era and to be portraying himself as something of a progressive in the mold of President Obama. And, of course, he needs that for his domestic audience as well, because he's very low in the polls and he needs a boost before the general election, which is likely next year.

INSKEEP: Although, of course, they will necessarily have to discuss a war, since British troops, several thousand of them are in Afghanistan where President Obama is increasing the effort, even as he tries to withdraw from Iraq.

GIFFORD: Absolutely. And that will be one of the main international topics. And I think Gordon Brown will want to keep the focus on the economic issues, really, because he is adding some new troops, nothing like the American contingent of 17,000. But Britain has the second-highest number of troops already in Afghanistan. And Britain is committed throughout the British military and throughout the politic establishment, they are committed to Afghanistan.

But I don't think he will be committing many more troops. The main issue is whether he can persuade other NATO allies to commit more troops themselves -Germany, France, and other European countries.

INSKEEP: Rob, always good to talk with you.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, indeed, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rob Gifford in London.

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Economic Woes Dominate Obama-Brown Talks

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaks during his monthly news conference Feb. 18 in London. i i

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaks during his monthly news conference Feb. 18 in London. Kieran Doherty/WPA Pool/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Kieran Doherty/WPA Pool/Getty Images
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaks during his monthly news conference Feb. 18 in London.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaks during his monthly news conference Feb. 18 in London.

Kieran Doherty/WPA Pool/Getty Images

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday that confidence in the international banking system can be restored and the global economy turned around if nations cooperate in establishing new and better standards of accountability.

Brown, who is in Washington this week to meet with President Obama and address a joint meeting of Congress, told NPR's Steve Inskeep that the financial crisis is "a global problem. It needs global solutions."

"There is a global banking collapse that we're dealing with consequences of in every country," Brown said. The British leader has in recent weeks invoked former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in calling for a "global New Deal" to fix the world economy.

"I think there is a general understanding, whether you talk to China, whether you talk to the European Union or you talk to our great friends here in America, that we need to show that the world can come together," he said.

A fiscal stimulus alone is not enough, Brown said. The international community needs to set standards "that if people are not able to meet, we would have a mechanism by which we would say, 'Look, this is not good enough,' and people would lose their status in the international community."

Brown, who also has served as Britain's finance minister, is to meet Obama at the White House later Tuesday. They will discuss the crisis that has plunged the U.S. and many other nations into a deepening recession and financial market turmoil.

"This is a banking crisis, so we've got to get to the roots of it. And, we've got to clean up the banking system, and I think most people are agreed on that," Brown said.

To do that, "cross-border supervision" of banking may be needed, he said.

Brown is the first European leader to meet Obama since the president took office on Jan. 20. The prime minister's visit will include an Oval Office meeting and lunch at the White House. Brown will also deliver a speech Wednesday to Congress, where he plans to call on countries to avoid trade protectionism.

The two leaders were also to discuss ways to tighten lax financial regulations ahead of the Group of 20 summit of developed and emerging economies in London on April 2.

Brown and Obama met last July when Obama visited London during a European tour while he was still a Democratic presidential candidate.

The White House has been careful to emphasize the need for Britain and America to work together to solve the financial crisis and to restore stability in Afghanistan, where the security situation has been deteriorating.

"We're undertaking a review, just as President Obama is undertaking a review," Brown said. "We can't solve the problem of Afghanistan without looking at what's happening in Pakistan."

Britain has the second-largest number of troops in Afghanistan after the United States, with more than 8,000 deployed in the region where Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents continue to mount almost daily attacks against international forces.

"We need to think first of all how we can deal with the terrorists that are located in Pakistan that may have come across the border," Brown told NPR. "Secondly, we've got to build a stronger government in Afghanistan."

From NPR staff and wire reports.

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