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Britain's PM Visits Bush, Presidential Candidates

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Britain's PM Visits Bush, Presidential Candidates

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Britain's PM Visits Bush, Presidential Candidates

Britain's PM Visits Bush, Presidential Candidates

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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is visiting the United States this week. Brown will meet with President Bush and all three U.S. presidential candidates, but he has also focused his trip on the current economic downturn.

LYNN NEARY, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Pope Benedict XVI is not the only high-profile visitor in Washington this morning. The other visitor is not expected to fill a baseball stadium for a morning Mass, but he will be meeting all three presidential candidates. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has already met with leading bankers in New York. That meeting that came after he spoke with top bank executives in London.

NPR's Rob Gifford is in London tracking Brown's effort to restore economic confidence. And, Rob is Britain is having the same housing and mortgage problems that the United States is?

ROB GIFFORD: It is having some similar problems. It hasn't had quite the same subprime meltdown, Steve, that you've seen across in the United States. But Gordon Brown has come under intense pressure because there is the same kind of credit crunch going on. The boom is over - the boom, which, incidentally, Gordon Brown presided over as chancellor of the exchequer, head of the Treasury here for a decade.

He stepped into power when Tony Blair leaves and, bam, he's hit by the credit crunch and he's getting a lot of the blame for that.

INSKEEP: Okay. So, is this guy, who is an economic expert, doing anything that's helping?

GIFFORD: Well, that's the problem. I mean, to be fair to Gordon Brown it's not all his fault, of course. This is a global phenomenon. But when it starts to squeeze people, who do they look to blame? They look to blame the government. What we're seeing now is that the treasury here is trying to get some moves in process to try and ease the crunch.

But some people are just saying it's taking so long and the government really needs to move quicker.

INSKEEP: I suppose we should say that not only does Britain have a very large economy - not as large as the U.S. but very large - but Britain looms very large in the world of finance. So, can these two leaders - Gordon Brown and President Bush, who he's meeting today also - do anything together to fight this crisis?

GIFFORD: That's the big question. Perhaps the upcoming meeting with Ben Bernanke may even be more important, the head of the Fed. Gordon Brown also met with senior Wall Street bank executives yesterday. The meeting with George Bush will be important symbolically.

I think to some extent some of these issues are outside the control of world leaders. But certainly from Gordon Brown's point of view, especially in the twilight of the Bush years, there's an element of Brown going to Washington in order to be seen to be doing something when in fact it's going to take some time for this to all play out and he can't just snap his magic wand, of course, and make this credit crunch go away.

INSKEEP: When Gordon Brown sits across the table from George W. Bush, do you think that Bush is looking at an ally who is as strong on issues like Iraq as Tony Blair was?

GIFFORD: Absolutely not. I think the Blair/Bush coordination, the partnership there, was very strong. Brown is a very different man. He's often described as the duel Scotsman, he's not as charismatic, and certainly he's not as interventionist as Tony Blair was and indeed George Bush is.

And so I don't think there is nearly such a meeting of minds between the two men. And in fact, crucially also today Gordon Brown is meeting today with all three possible candidates - Senator McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in order to look to the future, because one of those is likely to be the one he'll actually be dealing with on a day-to-day basis come early next year.

INSKEEP: Is it too rude to point out that when President Bush and Prime Minister Brown get into a room you've got two men with appalling approval ratings?

GIFFORD: No, I think that's absolutely true. I think the problem for Gordon Brown, though, is that President Bush has served his two terms; he knows he's on the way out. Gordon Brown has not yet got a mandate from the British people. So he has to go to the British people in a general election. He took over from Tony Blair simply when Tony Blair stepped down.

Within the next two years Gordon Brown must go to the British people, and that is a very, very big concern for him with the economy as bad as he is and his poll ratings as bad as they are.

INSKEEP: Rob, always good to hear from you.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's London correspondent Rob Gifford.

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Britain's Brown Sees World of New Challenges

Britain's Brown Sees World of New Challenges

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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he shares many things with his predecessor, Tony Blair. Chief among them, said Blair's former finance minister, are similar economic goals and ideals. But Brown says it is a different world that he faces in office.

"I think what I'm dealing with are the new challenges," Brown told NPR's Steve Inskeep, listing climate change, and a global economic transformation as two chief concerns.

In addition, Brown said security concerns persist and have grown more complex as technology has opened new avenues of attack.

But the British leader also said he sees progress in a commitment he inherited from Blair: his country's role in rebuilding and securing Iraq. Brown affirmed that his policies in Iraq are the same as those of Blair, who was known for backing President Bush's strategy in the country.

Of the recent violence in Basra, Brown said, "We are moving from a situation where we are the combat troops to a situation where, rightfully... the Iraqis can themselves take more control of their own affairs."

Emphasizing that his policy's chief goal is not combat but stability, Brown said, "The 4,000 [British] troops in the south are first of all training the Iraqi forces," and also securing supply lines and providing air support.

"If the Iraqi forces are able to insist on law and order" as the region gains both stability and economic growth, Brown said, "that's exactly the situation where, building on the democratic elections in Iraq, we now have local people having more say and more responsibility for their own affairs."

Brown also said that recent disruptions in the global economy are proof that the world needs new tools to cope with wide-scale problems. He is expected to give a speech urging a re-examination of international cooperative agencies while in the United States.

"The international order that we have — with the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund — was built in 1945 for the problems of 1945," Brown said.

The key difference, he said, is that those institutions "were built to deal with national governments with sheltered economies, without global flows of capital" and interconnected economies.

One solution, Brown says, is to develop an early-warning system for the global economy, which could connect financial groups around the world and identify potential problems.

The recent cooperation between U.S. business groups and federal regulators is a good step toward solving the current crisis, Brown said. But the benefits will not extend beyond U.S. borders unless wider cooperation takes place.

"We have a combination of problems that can only properly be addressed at a global level," Brown said.

The prime minister will meet Thursday with President Bush, and with presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama.