From Overseas Press

Changes afoot in the US-British relationship?

By Steve Holland (Agencies)
Updated: 2010-05-13 10:52
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WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday the US-British special relationship has "built up over centuries and it's not going away." But most experts see some changes in ties on the horizon.

Obama was quick to telephone his congratulations to new British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday after Cameron's Conservatives took power and ended the Labour Party's 13-year reign.

"I find him to be a smart, dedicated, effective leader and somebody who we are going to be able to work with very effectively," Obama said of the 43-year-old Cameron.

Both agreed US-British relations historically have outlasted "any individual party, any individual leader," Obama said.

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The ties may in fact be headed for a realignment as both leaders pursue a more balanced approach to foreign policy.

A key test will be in Afghanistan.

Obama has signalled his intention to begin pulling US troops out of Afghanistan by July 2011. At a time when Britain is grappling with its own budget woes, London is under pressure to leave Afghanistan as well.

"They're going to really be interested in getting out of Afghanistan as quickly as they can," said Gary Schmitt, a European expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "I think that could potentially be a source of real tension."

The special relationship in recent decades was distinguished by three important chapters: Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill working together on World War Two, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher on the Cold War and George W. Bush and Tony Blair on the Iraq war.

Each pairing got along famously, despite some tensions, most notably when Thatcher urged then-President George H.W. Bush not to go "wobbly" and let Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein get away with invading Kuwait in 1990.

Blair's persistence in sticking with Bush on Iraq against all odds led to charges that he had become a US "poodle." The British determination to resist a repeat of that image hangs over the relationship today.


Robin Niblett, director of Britain's Chatham House think-tank told the Council on Foreign Relations the election may prove to be pivotal in an ongoing structural shift in the bilateral relationship.

"The British government has felt itself to be increasingly marginal to America's long-term strategic bilateral relations," he said.

Britain's Conservatives, he said, remain staunch supporters of NATO for British security but they have suggested the country needs to build its own set of bilateral diplomatic relationships with such powers as India and China and with countries in East Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

Obama's approach to foreign policy is geared less toward personal relationships with his counterparts and more toward the policy itself.

He is perhaps mindful of the trouble George W. Bush caused for himself by developing, for example, friendly ties with then-Russian President Vladimir Putin and later feeling hoodwinked by him.

Obama and Cameron will meet face-to-face this summer when both attend a Group of Eight summit in Canada in June. Obama has invited Cameron to visit the White House as well.

Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute said the two leaders may get along well personally, despite the differences in political approach between the Democratic president and the Conservative prime minister.

"Cameron is more likely to get along with Obama. (Former Prime Minister Gordon) Brown being the dour Scot, I'm not sure there was much of a connection," Schmitt said. "I think Cameron's style is more likely to fit easily with Obama."