Blair Attends Final Meeting at White House British Prime Minister Tony Blair stood his ground on the decision to invade Iraq at a final, joint press conference with President Bush on Thursday. Blair is leaving office on June 27, amid harsh criticism for his support for the war.

Blair Attends Final Meeting at White House

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.


I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, New York City police spied on political groups before the 2004 Republican Convention there.

CHADWICK: We'll have that story from Margot Adler in New York. First, though, to the White House where President Bush is meeting today with perhaps his best foreign friend, certainly his closest ally among foreign leaders, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr. Blair is leaving office in a month. He's visiting Washington. He actually stayed over at the White House last night, slept over there in a guest bedroom rather than at the British Embassy. The two leaders have - working on a joint press conference at the Rose Garden.

We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea, who's been watching all that's going on. Don, how does it feel around the White House on this final official meeting between the president and the prime minister?

DON GONYEA: Well, Alex, don't smack me down if I use a real cliche here, but it's really does feel like the end of an era. It's hard to imagine President Bush without having Tony Blair to talk to and Tony Blair to call. And Blair, of course, is obviously so identified with President Bush, and it's all entwined with the Iraq war and everything else.


GONYEA: But I - also, I think back to the very beginning, even before President Bush took office. Tony Blair, who is compared so often to President Clinton in terms of his politics and his style and everything else, sat down with President Clinton before President Bush took office and said, what should I make of this guy, George Bush? How should I interact with him? Clinton's advice to him then was to be President Bush's best friend. Blair did that. You could still see that on display today.

CHADWICK: Yeah, he had a lot of nice things to say at this press conference about his relationship with the president. Here's a clip of that.

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Great Britain): You've been a strong leader at a time when the world needed strong leadership. You've been unyielding and unflinching and determined in the fight that we faced together, and I thank you for that.

GONYEA: And Alex, at one point, the president said the world needs courage and this is a courageous man. And he, you know, he extended his hand and shook Blair's hands. So that really is the relationship. But again, it is so much more complicated because of the Iraq war. One can't help but think how Blair would be perceived in history if he had not allied himself so closely with President Bush and the Iraq war had not played out as it has.

At one point in this briefing today - they just took a handful of questions, some from the British press, some from the American press - and a British reporter asked very pointedly, asked President Bush if he might be the one who is responsible for Tony Blair's early exit as Prime Minister. The president got a little defensive and said, hey, hey, Tony Blair hasn't even left office yet - but then he went on to say this.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The meetings today weren't (unintelligible) this wasn't like a farewell deal. This was, how can we continue to work together for the common good. And that's what we'll do. As to why things happened politically in, you know, Great Britain, I suggest you go over there and ask people.

GONYEA: Again, he's talking to a British reporter. So presumably that reporter has asked people over there, and a lot of them say President Bush is the cause of the end of Tony Blair's career and the way it is ending.

CHADWICK: So you should be President Bush's best friend, that advice, do you see that in the personal relationship between the two, a feeling of rapport?

GONYEA: You absolutely do. I mean, these guys do feel very comfortable with one another. You know, when people are close, sometimes they finish one another's sentences. Well, there's a different dynamic at play here between these two guys. Again, I've had the opportunity to observe them both together probably a dozen times or more over the past six, seven years.

And something often happens. President Bush will answer a question in his very kind of casual and sometimes I'm-not-revealing-anything-here, inarticulate way. Tony Blair will then step up to the mic right next to him and answer the question, the same question. And when he's done, sometimes you would see those of us in the White House press corps looking at one another and going, oh, that's what he meant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: It seems to make so much more sense when he says it. But that, I think, kind of sums up their relationship in a lot of ways.

NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. Don, thank you.

GONYEA: Always a pleasure.

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