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British Ambassador says Relationship With US Tested, Remains Strong - 2003-12-02

Britain's ambassador to the United States says cooperation between the two countries is crucial to confronting global problems, from terrorism to AIDS. Ambassador David Manning says the so-called "special relationship" between the nations has been tested and remains strong.

The diplomat says Iraq has been an "enormously difficult issue" for the two longtime allies, and that the task of rebuilding the country will not be quick or easy.

He said his government is very concerned about the recent attacks on coalition forces, but he says security problems are just part of the story.

"It is important, even though the security situation is difficult, not to lose sight of what else is going on in Iraq. Kids are back at school, and the hospitals do have drugs, and there is now more power being generated than there was before the war. And people are free. People can march around in Iraq and protest about the Americans and the British in a way that they could never protest about Saddam Hussein for fear of being fed head-first into a meat grinder. So let's be clear about what is going on in Iraq," he said.

Mr. Manning took up his post as Britain's ambassador to Washington in September. Before that, he was a policy advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair on Iraq and the Middle East.

The diplomat concedes that Mr. Blair took a course of action unpopular with many in Britain when he joined the coalition to topple Saddam Hussein. But he said Mr. Blair remains convinced he is pursuing the right course.

"He's not somebody who sits around looking each day at the latest opinion poll. I think his view is that he was elected to give a lead, he will give a lead, in due course there will be an election, and people will decide whether they liked the lead they gave," he said.

Two weeks ago, President Bush conferred with Mr. Blair during a state visit to Britain, and the two leaders issued joint statements on Iraq, the war on terror and other issues. The diplomat said they resolved to stay the course in fighting terrorism, and pursued their partnership by tackling global issues such as AIDS.

"The president the prime minister met a whole lot of African health ministers while the president was in London. They set up a task force," he said. "It means tackling development issues, not only in Africa but certainly in Africa. It means tackling a whole range of issues together. These are testing issues, they are difficult issues, but I don't think we should be intimidated because of that."

Mr. Manning says one of the greatest challenges facing the two nations, in cooperation with other countries, is establishing a free and stable society in Iraq, with a balanced government that represents all parts of Iraqi society.