- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 28, 2004

LONDON (Agence France-Presse) — British Prime Minister Tony Blair is balking at flying to the United States to receive a medal bestowed on him by Congress for his support last year of the Iraq war, a London newspaper reported last week.

President Bush has urged his closest ally to pick up the medal, awarded more than a year ago, in person, the London Sunday Mirror said, quoting a senior British government source.

Mr. Blair has been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and remains immensely popular with large sections of the American public for his staunch support of the Iraq war. The White House believes a visit by the prime minister now would provide a much-needed boost to Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign, the weekly said.

“There has been a lot of telephone traffic between the White House and Downing Street [the prime ministers office] over the medal in recent weeks,” the Sunday Mirror quoted a senior government source as saying.

“George Bush wants the prime minister to come to Washington and pick up the medal, which is the highest honor America can bestow on a foreigner,” the paper reported, but it said Mr. Blair has delayed coming from more than a year: “He cannot possibly accept an award for the Iraq war when British and American troops continue to risk their lives there.”

Mr. Blair reportedly also is concerned that a trip to the United States now would be effectively giving a boost to Mr. Bush over Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts before the presidential elections in November.

“The Democrats are watching the situation very carefully, and there would be uproar if Tony traveled to Washington to meet Bush so close to the presidential elections,” the government source said.

“But Bush isn’t letting up. The White House has already let it be known that they feel slighted because of this and believe they can use this to put pressure on Blair to get him out there.”

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