- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

Blair no poodle

The British ambassador revealed the real reason why Prime Minister Tony Blair continues to refuse to accept a Congressional Gold Medal awarded him nearly four years ago: He does not want to appear to be President Bush’s “poodle.”

Ambassador David Manning told the Times of London that Mr. Blair is facing so much political pressure over his decision to back the United States in Iraq that he will probably not accept the award until after he leaves office. Mr. Blair is expected to step down this summer.

Mr. Blair “always had inhibitions” about receiving the medal, Mr. Manning said in an unusually frank interview last week.

“For those who are convinced that the prime minister is … some sort of ‘poodle,’ it does not matter what he does. You reach the point where if he had collected the medal, people would say that proves their point,” Mr. Manning said.

He insisted that Mr. Blair has never bowed to U.S. pressure and that he holds “frank” discussions in private meetings with Mr. Bush. He added that the prime minister is not “a hand-wringing supplicant” in those meetings.

“Both of them know what they want to emphasize and where they want the conversation to go,” the ambassador said. “They have become comfortable about dealing with the difficult things, as well as the easy things.”

When they disagree, their differences do not diminish the strong relationship between Britain and the United States, he said.

“There has been a subtler process of engagement across a range of issues. How do you handle [nuclear] proliferation, particularly that of Iran? How do you handle climate change?” he said.

Mr. Manning noted a change in U.S. politics after the Democrats regained control of Congress in November’s elections.

“What we have now is a very different Congress and a very different political debate. Not everything is about national security and Iraq. Of course, in 2008, Iraq will be a central issue, but politics is back in America after being anesthetized for a four- or five-year period,” he said.

Mugabe says behave

Zimbabwe’s authoritarian president is warning U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell and other critics of his regime to “behave” themselves or he will expel them from his southern African nation.

Robert Mugabe, in a ranting interview with the London-based New African magazine, expressed his frustration at diplomats who have denounced his crackdown on political dissent and his economic policies that have plunged Zimbabwe into near-collapse.

“If America wants a man like Christopher Dell to remain here, then he’s got to behave, because we will not brook further nonsense from him,” Mr. Mugabe said.

He added that he has told foreign ambassadors that he has tired of their criticism.

“We read them the riot act,” he said. “If they continue to do that, we will certainly kick them out of the country. It doesn’t matter who it is.”

Earlier this month, White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino denounced Mr. Mugabe’s “increasing campaign of oppression” after police broke up an opposition protest and seriously beat Morgan Tsvangirai, a leading critic of his government.

“The efforts of the Zimbabwean government to suppress the peaceful expression of democratic rights and its misguided economic policies have brought untold misery to the nation,” she said.

“The life expectancy of an average Zimbabwean is now 36 years, the third-lowest in the world. Income levels have fallen by half since 2000, and state-sponsored violence is rampant.

“Roughly a quarter of the population has fled Zimbabwe’s borders to escape the unrelenting suffering.”

Inflation is running at more than 2,200 percent, and unemployment is over 80 percent of the population of about 10.5 million.

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