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Prime Minister Blair's Resignation Will Affect US-British Relations


British Prime Minister Tony Blair's three terms in office have coincided with the terms of two American presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Mr. Blair enjoyed warm, even friendly relations with both men. However, he lost the support of the British people, many of whom strongly opposed his close association with President Bush's Iraq policy. This led, in part, to Mr. Blair's announcement that he will resign by next year. VOA's Peter Fedynsky examines what Mr. Blair's departure could mean for U.S.-British relations.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are liberal politicians who embraced a new approach to governing -- the so-called "third way," which combined market forces with government action.

Tony Blair and George W. Bush -- the liberal and the conservative -- waged an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq. Nile Gardiner, a political analyst with the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, D.C. says this relationship was heartfelt.

"Both leaders, I think, shared a common black and white world view,” says Mr. Gardiner, “which is that the United States and Great Britain are engaged in an almighty conflict against an evil, barbaric enemy and that it's down to the U.S. and the U.K. to stand together to defeat al-Qaida and global terrorism."

But in Britain, where a majority opposes the Iraq war, the public is less charitable. Rupert Cornwell, Washington Bureau Chief of the Independent newspaper, says, "He is under accusation that he is Mr. Bush's poodle, of having meekly followed him into the war."

President Bush was asked specifically about the poodle accusation, prompting a rigorous defense of Mr. Blair's leadership.

"When he says something, he means it,” said the president. “He is a big thinker, he's got a clear vision, and when times get tough he doesn't wilt. When the criticism starts to come his way, I suspect that might be happening on occasion, he stands for what he believes in. That is the type of person I like to deal with."

Members of Mr. Blair's Labor Party, fearing that voter disapproval of his policies could damage their own election chances, maneuvered to force his resignation announcement. Mr. Blair's likely successor is expected to be Britain's current Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, who has relatively little foreign policy experience.

Nile Gardiner says Brown is not likely to duplicate the Blair-Bush relationship. "We are talking about one of the most striking political partnerships of our time certainly, and a partnership that is highly unlikely to be emulated by another British prime minister, at least for this generation."

Tony Blair has not set a date for his departure, but indicates it will be within the next 12 months. The ruling Labor Party's new leader will automatically become Prime Minister. A general election in Britain must be scheduled at the latest by 2010. The United States holds its next presidential election in 2008.

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