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Britain's Treasury Chief Launches Campaign to Succeed Tony Blair

Britain's Treasury chief, Gordon Brown, has officially launched his campaign to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister at the end of June. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London that in laying out his program, Brown said Britain must honor its commitments in Iraq, but he noted that, "mistakes have been made."

In what he said would be the first of many news conferences in the coming weeks, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, kicked off his campaign to succeed his long-time political friend and rival, Tony Blair as prime minister.

"Today I announce that I am a candidate to be leader of the Labor Party and to lead a new government," said Brown.

In laying out his program, Brown focused largely on domestic issues - further strengthening the economy and ensuring better health care and education. He promised to listen and learn and restore public trust in government.

Despite the domestic emphasis, the issue of Iraq was quickly raised. Did Brown agree with Prime Minister Blair's policy and will he change course, if he becomes prime minister?

"We will keep our obligations to the Iraqi people. These are obligations that are part of U.N. resolutions," he said.

However, Brown admitted "mistakes were made," and indicated there would be a shift in emphasis.

"I do think that over the next few months, the emphasis will shift," he said. "We've got to concentrate more on political reconciliation in Iraq. We've got to concentrate more on economic development so that people in Iraq, that they feel they've got a stake in the country for the future. And, obviously we've got to do more to win the battle of hearts and minds against al-Qaida terrorism. And, I would not wish to underestimate the extent to which this new front has got to be opened."

Brown also said he would travel to the Middle East, to talk with Iraqi officials and meet with British troops.

Britain's involvement in Iraq and the government's staunch support for President Bush have been unpopular with most Britons and are widely seen as having hastened Tony Blair's exit from office.

In an interview with British radio, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Mr. Blair has been a special friend of America, but she said the administration would work closely with a new government under Gordon Brown.

"I think the relationship will be very close in part because the United States and Britain are such key allies," she said.

As Brown sets out to win the support of his own party, he has already received a ringing endorsement of a key member, the outgoing prime minister.

"I'm absolutely delighted to give my full support to Gordon as the next leader of the Labor party and prime minister and to endorse him fully," said Blair.

Gordon Brown is not expected to face serious challengers in the election process within Labor, which unfolds in the weeks ahead. Mr. Blair has said he will resign as prime minister June 27.