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Brown visits Bush, seeks strong ties

British leader denies relationship is cooling

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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown chats Sunday with President Bush as the two leaders meet at Camp David.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown chats Sunday with President Bush as the two leaders meet at Camp David.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Gordon Brown traveled to the United States on Sunday, saying he planned to use the official visit to strengthen what Britain already considers its "most important bilateral relationship."

"It is a relationship that is founded on our common values of liberty, opportunity and the dignity of the individual," Brown said. "And because of the values we share, the relationship with the United States is not only strong but can become stronger in the years ahead."

Brown, making his first visit to the United States as Britain's new leader, also denied speculation that the bilateral relationship was cooling.

His predecessor, Tony Blair, was often accused at home of being too compliant with the policies of President Bush, especially regarding the Iraq war. Some analysts have urged Brown to be more like Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill, who had close ties with the United States but remained frank about their own goals and policies.

Brown makes his first major overseas trip buoyed by a surprising degree of public support after a first month in office in which he impressed Britons with his handling of the terror plots in London and Glasgow.

Brown, who arrived at Andrews Air Force Base east of Washington just before 5 p.m. EDT, was traveling with British foreign secretary David Miliband.

The prime minister arrived by helicopter at Camp David about an hour later after booming thunderstorms gave way to sunshine. Bush met him and the two exchanged small talk.

"It's a great pleasure to be here at Camp David because there's so much history associated with it," Brown told Bush. Bush drove the two of them away in a golf cart after doing a playful 360-degree maneuver in front of the gathered media.

Many observers expected Brown to flop because of a personality often derided as dour and brooding — yet these traits have helped him appear serious and statesmanlike.

Britons actually seem pleased with the contrast to the kinetic Blair. But questions abound over whether the intellectual Brown will kindle Blair's chemistry with Bush.

Brown arrives with some thorny issues to manage, not least the fate of Britain's remaining soldiers in Iraq.

In Washington, officials expressed optimism about warm ties between Bush and Brown, but there has already been friction.

Junior foreign affairs minister Mark Malloch-Brown raised eyebrows in Washington recently when he said Bush and Brown would not be "joined at the hip" — a jab at Blair's close relationship with the U.S. president.

In London, The Sunday Times reported that Simon McDonald, Brown's chief foreign policy adviser, recently traveled to Washington to meet with U.S. officials ahead of the prime minister's visit and discussed the possibility of an early British military withdrawal from Iraq.

Brown's spokesman Michael Ellam told reporters on Sunday that McDonald had made it "very clear" to U.S. officials there had been no change to British government policy over Iraq. Military chiefs in London have said Britain is likely to hand over control of the southern Iraqi city of Basra to local forces by the end of the year.

Around 500 of Britain's 5,500 troops in Iraq are due to hand over the Basra Palace city center base within weeks. Brown has not outlined plans for the remaining 5,000 personnel, stationed at an airport on the fringes of the city.

Ellam said there was no plan to withdraw British troops before the Iraqi army is deemed capable of maintaining security.

Asked whether Brown intended to discuss with Bush plans for British troops once they withdraw to the fringes of the city, Ellam said: "Clearly decisions have to be made on all of these matters."

Other difficult issues include the American push to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, the Iran nuclear showdown, Darfur and the status of the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo.

Aides said the British leader aimed to secure Bush's help in restarting the stalled Doha rounds of World Trade Organization talks, which seek to help poorer countries develop their economies through new trade. He also wanted to discuss a stiffer international response to the violence in Sudan's Darfur region.