Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush at Thursday's Rose Garden news conference.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush at Thursday's Rose Garden news conference. Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair stood together in the Rose Garden for the last time Thursday in a news conference that was largely a defense of the Iraq war, an event that has shaped their common legacy.
Blair, who will step down as prime minister at the end of June, said he has never regretted his support for the United States and is proud of the relationship between the two nations.
"I have taken the view that Britain should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with America after Sept. 11, and I have never deviated from that view," Blair told members of the American and British press corps. "I do not regret that view."
Blair predicted that his successor, British Treasury Chief Gordon Brown, would maintain the special relationship between the countries.
"I believe that we will remain a staunch and steadfast ally in the fight against terrorism," he said.
President Bush said he is optimistic that a compromise with Congress will be reached on a spending bill to continue funding the war in Iraq.
"I think we'll get a deal. We'll work through something we can all live with," he said.
The president called Blair "a good friend" and a clear thinker whose advice was sought by other world leaders and whose opinion they respected. He said his relationship with the prime minister has always been "cordial, open, and I appreciate the fact that he can see beyond the horizon."
President Bush said that during this visit, sure to be Blair's last as prime minister, the two leaders discussed not only Iraq and Afghanistan, but also unrest in the Middle East, ongoing violence in the Darfur region of Sudan and global climate change.
Blair said he wanted to take the opportunity to thank the president.
"You have been a strong leader when the world needed strong leadership," he said, adding that the president had been "unflinching, and we needed that."
The two leaders, however, spent much of the conference defending their decisions on Iraq.
At one point, Blair said "you can debate about Iraq, whether we should have done this or should have done that, but what is happening in Iraq today is that our enemy is fighting us."
One journalist pointed out that the president had said he hoped Blair would remain in office until the end of the U.S. presidential term in 2008. Asked whether he thought he was responsible for Blair's earlier departure, the president replied: "Could be. I don't know."