Bush, Brown Meet at Camp David

CAMP DAVID, Md. (AP) -- President Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown are expected to hold a news conference after today's meeting at Camp David. Brown has said he would use his visit to strengthen what Britain considers its "most important bilateral relationship."

With little relationship of their own yet, Bush and Brown point instead to how much their nations have in common.

The alliance of the United States and Britain, though, has long been shaped by personalities - Roosevelt and Churchill, Reagan and Thatcher, Bush and Blair. Now Bush and Brown will find out how much they can do in a short time.

Brown arrived Sunday at Camp David, the presidential mountain retreat 70 miles north of Washington. It is their first official sit-down, although they have met before.

During a private dinner Sunday and more meetings Monday morning, the two leaders were talking strategy on the war in Iraq, killings in Darfur and stalled global trade.

The timing comes as the two men head in different political directions.

Brown took power just a month ago, with strong early marks for his response to terror threats and catastrophic flooding at home. He faces the tricky task of helping Bush tackle world crises without getting too closely aligned with a U.S. leader scorned in Britain.

Bush, meanwhile, likes to size up a fellow world leader in person and, over time, measure the person's mettle under fire. Yet he doesn't have much time left. And his popularity, along with a good bit of clout, have worn away with the war in Iraq.

"What the president wants to find out is whether the new prime minister is a reliable ally," said Simon Serfaty, a European expert at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. "The word to use is reassurance. This is not about a marriage. It's a date."

The two got off to a chatty start. Brown could be overhead remarking on how he was honored to be at Camp David, given its rich history. Part of that history included a stop by Tony Blair, Brown's predecessor, in 2001 when Bush barely knew him, either.

"Do you come here a good bit?" Brown said Sunday.

"I do," Bush said. Then the president whisked the prime minister away on a golf cart with a flourish - a 360-degree spin for fun.

They dined privately over a meal of roast tenderloin, mashed potatoes and green beans. The all-American fare was to continue Monday, with cheeseburgers and fries for lunch.

In between, the two had a heavy agenda, in private sessions and with top aides.

Heading into it all, Brown downplayed Iraq as a focal point, although he acknowledged it would be discussed. Britain has 5,500 troops there, with forces moving from a combat role to aiding local Iraqi forces. Beyond the specific numbers of British forces, the United Kingdom's commitment to the war is essential to the Bush administration.

Brown's spokesman Michael Ellam said there was no plan to withdraw British troops before the Iraqi army is deemed capable of maintaining security. Notably, though, Brown is covering his bases. After leaving Bush, he planned to meet leaders on Capitol Hill.

Brown was later to leave Washington for New York, where he will hold talks with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and deliver a speech to the United Nations.

At the presidential retreat, Bush aides are eager to hear the tenor of the conversation.

Some of Brown's advisers have caused a stir with comments about the Iraq war and Bush's famously close ties with Blair. Yet just before he arrived in Washington, Brown was careful to praise the U.S.

"America has shown by the resilience and bravery of its people from Sept. 11 that while buildings can be destroyed, values are indestructible," Brown said. "And we should acknowledge the debt the world owes to the United States for its leadership in this fight against international terrorism."

In Washington and London, aides for both leaders sought to frame their meetings as a time to move ahead on shared goals - yet they also lowered expectations of any announcements.

Other agenda items include preventing a nuclear crisis in Iran and settling the status of the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo.

Gordon Johndroe, Bush's national security spokesman, said Blair's exit and Brown's ascendancy will have no effect on the alliance between the countries.

"Specific relationships between any two people are always going to be different," Johndroe said. "I think comparisons are sort of silly. The relationship between the two countries is so strong that I think all the discussion about the very specifics of the personal relationships is not terribly relevant."

But if it is, the White House also offers up this point: Blair was notably close to Bill Clinton, which led people to wonder how he could form a relationship with Bush.

They did. Now Blair is out, and Bush starts anew with the leader of an ally he needs.


Associated Press writer David Stringer contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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