Britain's Brown Visits U.S., Seeking a Bit of Distance British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is making his first official trip to the U.S. Brown will try to show the British public that he is more independent of President Bush than Tony Blair was perceived to be — but reassure Americans that he is an ally.

Britain's Brown Visits U.S., Seeking a Bit of Distance

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts.

Gordon Brown embarks today on his first major overseas trip as Britain's prime minister. He's coming here to Washington. Brown is set to meet today and tomorrow with George W. Bush at the president's Maryland retreat Camp David.

The United States and Britain have long enjoyed a special relationship. But does ties just might be a little less special under Prime Minister Brown than they were under his predecessor Tony Blair?

NPR's Rob Gifford filed this report from London.

ROBERT GIFFORD: The special relationship under the new British prime minister seemed to get off to a rocky start. One of Gordon Brown's closest allies, Trade and Development Secretary Douglas Alexander gave a speech in Washington earlier this month that appeared to be critical of the United States.

He called on the U.S. government to rely more on so-called soft power than on military might. This accompanied Brown's appointment of the former deputy secretary general of the United Nations Mark Malloch Brown to his cabinet. Malloch Brown has been publicly very critical of the war in Iraq and of the Bush administration.

Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University says there's a real domestic pressure on Gordon Brown.

Professor JOHN CURTICE (Politics, University of Strathclyde): Gordon Brown knows that his political future depends on being able to demonstrate his government is different from his predecessor. He knows that domestically the invasion of Iraq is regarded as probably Tony Blair's biggest mistake. He knows he needs to distance himself for his domestic audience, at least Gordon Brown will be wanting to demonstrate that his relationship with George Bush is actually somewhat different from that of Tony Blair's.

GIFFORD: As well as being less keen on preemptive military intervention, Gordon Brown is known to hold different views to President Bush on other issues, such as climate change, that are likely to arise in the talks.

But despite the need to distance himself from George Bush personally, observers do not expect links between the two countries to suffer too much. Gordon Brown has stopped using the phrase war on terror but he's made clear that he'll be no softer on terrorism issues than Tony Blair. And he's refused to set a date for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.

Wyn Grant is professor of politics at Warrick University. He says Brown's natural leaning is certainly much more towards the U.S. than towards Europe.

Professor WYN GRANT (Politics, Warrick University): Clearly there are people in the foreign office who would like us to have a close relationship with Europe. But, I mean, Gordon Brown is not a great enthusiast for Europe. He's a person who in the past has had close personal links with the United States. For a long time, he used to go for his holidays to Cape Cod and he used to meet Blair with members of what one might call the East Coast intelligence there in the United States and it (unintelligible) quite a few of the ideas which came into new labor in terms of modernization, welfare to work, and some more ideas that emanated from the United States.

GIFFORD: In the end though, with just 17 months of President Bush's term left to run, John Curtice says that this trip and relations in the coming months may not be so much to do with the Bush-Brown relationship anyway.

Prof. CURTICE: And the British government, of course, is going to be aware that George Bush's days as president are now numbered, and will also be aware that his control of Congress is now lost. And that to that degree at least therefore making connections with whoever might be running the next administration is going to be at least as important as maintaining their connections with the current administration. And one suspects that privately, at least, some of the agenda of this trip is going to be devoting and maintaining those connections as much as they are with talking to the current regime.

GIFFORD: No one expected the left-of-center Tony Blair to become so close to the Republican President Bush, so who knows if a surprising chemistry could emerge between the dour Scot and the backslapping Texan. And while Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to dominate the conversation, there are other important issues — on trade and assisting Africa — that both men share.

But perhaps, symbolically at least, Gordon Brown's more multilateral instincts are best shown by his destination after meeting with President Bush on Monday: He goes to the United Nations in New York to meet the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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