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Blair: Ties With US Transcend Differences - 2003-11-21

During President George Bush's four-day visit to Britain, Mr. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed some contentious issues between the two countries. While Mr. Blair did not receive any public concessions from the American leader, he says ties between the Britain and the United States transcend their differences.

Shortly before President Bush departed Britain Friday, Mr. Blair told reporters it is wrong to view British-American relations in terms of the give-and-take on issues over which the countries disagree.

"People sometimes talk about this alliance between Britain and the United States of America as if it were some scorecard," he said. "It isn't. It's an alliance of values. It's an alliance of common interests. It's an alliance of common convictions and beliefs. And the reason why we are standing side-by-side with America is not because we feel forced to, it is because we want to."

Mr. Blair compared today's British and American alliance to fight global terrorism with the struggle the two countries undertook together in World War II to fight the Axis powers.

"The reason why I believe the vast majority of my country is proud of the alliance with the United States, is not because there is some payback that's going to be given to us, it's not about that," he said. "It's about knowing that this is a struggle in which we are both engaged. Just as in my father's generation, they knew there was a struggle in which we both had to be engaged. And thank goodness, both of us were, because that is the reason we are standing in a free country today."

Before the summit, Britain had hoped for progress on three issues that have aggravated Anglo-American relations, but President Bush did not concede much on any of them.

Top of the list is the fate of nine Britons held as suspected terrorists at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mr. Blair wants the men repatriated to stand trial in Britain, where they could avoid the death penalty.

President Bush says he will consider the request after a U.S. Supreme Court review.

Britain also wanted President Bush to say he would lift U.S. tariffs on imported steel, an issue that threatens to trigger a trade war between the United States and Europe. Mr. Bush made no such announcement.

On another issue, British companies were looking for a commitment from President Bush to give them a share of nearly $20-billion of pending U.S. reconstruction contracts in Iraq. No deal was struck, although British trade officials believe one eventually will be worked out.

But for the time being, Prime Minister Blair will have to return to parliament without any tangible progress on any of those issues, to face opposition lawmakers who keep asking him exactly what Britain gets out of what is called its "special relationship" with the United States.