Interviews

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

This week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited President Obama at the White House, and things seemed to go smoothly. But from the British press comes confirmation that smooth is in the eye of the beholder, and a reminder that when you give visitors a gift, it may be the thought that counts, but it's the gift that the visitors have to show for that thought.

Well, columnist Iain Martin, who writes a blog as well for the Daily Telegraph found President Obama to be rudeness personified towards Britain, and he joins us from London. First, before we get to the gifts, you say the first point of rudeness was the U.S. should have put out more flags.

Mr. IAIN MARTIN (Columnist, Blogger): Absolutely. I mean, we're used to - when our prime minister is in town, we're used to the full press conference featuring flags and a sustained period in which both men can be cross-examined by the British and American press, and only at the last moment was it agreed that there would be a small press conference. And I think it was read as a metaphor for a wider concern that Obama really just didn't like having the Brits in town.

Yes, he's dealing with the biggest global crisis in 70 years. Still, it would have been nice if he could have welcomed Brown with just a hint more enthusiasm.

SIEGEL: All of this might be heard as a series of complaints, but they pale beside the complaint about the gifts that were exchanged. Who got what on this visit?

Mr. MARTIN: Well, I think Brown had put quite a bit of thought into his gifts. I mean, the first gift was a pen holder made from HMS Gannet, which is the sister ship of HMS Resolute, from which I think the president's desk is actually made, plus a seven-volume biography of Winston Churchill by the great British historian Sir Martin Gilbert. And in exchange for which, the White House gave Gordon Brown 25 American films on DVD. All great films, "Wizard of Oz," "E.T.," "Lawrence of Arabia," but, you know, we do have television and DVDs over here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: They have arrived. We have seen these films as many times as you have. We don't need to see them again.

SIEGEL: All right. Now that that secret is out, there also were gifts exchanged for the children of the Browns and the Obamas.

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, this was slightly odd. I mean, I know that Sarah Brown, the prime minister's wife, had clearly spent a lot of time picking out presents for the Obama girls and dresses from a famous British store and necklaces, and that sort of thing. And essentially, the Brown sons, in return, got two models of the helicopter that ferries the president around, which just smacked to me and to other British commentators as at the last moment, it occurred that a gift would be needed, and somebody was sent off running down the hall to the White House gift shop to pick up two helicopters.

SIEGEL: Now, as you've conceded, this is a man who's - he has had a full plate.

Mr. MARTIN: He has, absolutely. I think to put it into some perspective, there is usually this dance at the beginning in which a new American president says, we're going to do things differently. We're going to talk to - we want, essentially, permission to date other people. We're going to talk more to the French, we're going to talk more to the Germans, we're going to talk more to the Japanese. That's fantastic. I understand the instinct. However, when you get 18 months into a presidency, you discover again that there is a reason that Britain and America are such close friends, and it would just be nice if Obama had shown an inkling that he understands that.

SIEGEL: Well, columnist Iain Martin of the Daily Telegraph, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. MARTIN: Great talking to you.

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