Blair Promises Britain Will Remain Staunch Ally of US

U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair met for what will probably be the last time at the White House Thursday, weeks before the prime minister steps down. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, the men discussed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the future of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

The president and prime minister took advantage of their final official meeting to hold a secure video conference from the White House with U.S. and British commanders in Iraq.

Prime Minister Blair says there are genuine signs of progress toward political reconciliation between Sunni and Shi'ites. But he says al-Qaida terrorists and Iranian-backed elements are equally determined to disrupt that progress.

"This extremism is rearing its head, is trying to dislodge the prospects of stability and progress in so many difference countries," he said. "There is no alternative for us but to fight it wherever it exists. And that is true whether it is in our own countries, which have both suffered from terrorism, or in Iraq or Afghanistan."

Prime Minister Blair has long been the president's biggest ally in Iraq with British troops second only to the American contingent in the multi-national force.

The unpopular war has hurt approval ratings for both men and is seen in Britain as one of the reasons the prime minister is stepping down.

Asked if he is to blame for the prime minister leaving office, the president said he does not know, then laughed and said, "could be."

In a Rose Garden news conference, Mr. Bush said he has enjoyed working with Mr. Blair more than he could have possible imagined.

"You know, I don't regret things about what may or may not have happened over the past five years. I honor a relationship that I truly believe has been laying the foundation for peace," he said.

Prime Minister Blair says he has tried to do what is right and would ally himself with the president again if he had it to do over.

"I've admired him as a president and I regard him as a friend," he said. "I have taken the view that Britain should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with America after September the 11th. I have never deviated from that view. I do not regret that view. I am proud of the relationship we have had. I am proud of the relationship between our two countries."

While it was likely their last White House meeting, the two men will meet again as heads of government at next months G8 summit in Germany.

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