- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

LONDON The "special relationship" between Britain and the United States is under severe strain, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush at odds over a half-dozen issues, ranging from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Washington's tariffs on steel imports.

The ties that bind the two nations are also under stress about global warming, the newly established International Criminal Court, proposals for a "European army" independent from NATO, and whether aid to Africa should concentrate on education or AIDS.

"In 32 years of reporting on international affairs, I have never seen Britain and the United States more separated from each other," said the British Broadcasting Corp.'s celebrity news analyst, John Simpson.

Even where Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush appear to agree, such as in their belief that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein must be overthrown, the prime minister is having to battle anti-American elements within his own ruling Labor Party that oppose any joint U.S.-British military campaign against Saddam.

At the best of times relations between the two leaders have not been all that easy. Ideologically, the left-leaning Mr. Blair is closer to former President Bill Clinton than to President Bush.

The recent ebb in Anglo-American relations was triggered by Mr. Bush's condemnation of Mr. Arafat and the president's demand that the Palestinians choose a new leader.

Mr. Blair immediately distanced himself from the call, to the accompaniment of large headlines in the British press.

"Blair believes it's best to keep talking, even if that means talking to distasteful people," said one diplomatic observer.

The British leader's position has been further complicated by remarks by his wife, Cherie Blair, indicating her sympathy for the Palestinian suicide bombers, who have been condemned by the White House.

Washington's plan to impose tariffs of up to 30 percent on steel imports has angered and possibly embarrassed the government in London. Mr. Blair has put his personal authority on the line by appealing directly to the U.S. president for special treatment for Britain, with little success.

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