- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2007

LONDON — Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on a visit to Washington this month, will seek to soothe reported Bush administration irritation over remarks from two of his ministers suggesting that he intends to distance Britain from its steadfast alliance with the United States.

Mr. Brown’s first journey to the White House since becoming prime minister had already been planned, but it has taken on a special urgency over reports that his government thinks U.S. foreign policy, particularly in Iraq, is straining the Anglo-American “special relationship.”

Mr. Brown moved hastily to quiet the speculation, telling journalists over the weekend, “We will not allow people to separate us from the United States of America in dealing with the common challenges we face around the world.” He insisted that he intends to continue working closely with President Bush and his administration.

The prime minister was forced to speak after two of his ministers — International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander and Foreign Office Minister Mark Malloch Brown — hinted that London will move to cool relations between the two nations, largely because of the Iraq conflict.

Mr. Alexander told the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington on Thursday that Britain still stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the war against terrorism but that “isolationism” does not work in an interdependent world.

“In the 20th century,” he said in a remark interpreted as a jibe at the United States, “a country’s might was too often measured in what they could destroy. In the 21st, strength should be measured by what we can build together.”

Mr. Malloch Brown said in a subsequent interview with London’s Daily Telegraph that Britain had to broaden its range of allies and predicted that ties between London and Washington would loosen.

“It is very unlikely that the Brown-Bush relationship is going to go through the baptism of fire and, therefore, be joined together at the hip like the Blair-Bush relationship was,” said Mr. Malloch Brown, a former deputy secretary-general at the United Nations and a critic of the Iraq war.

With Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush, he said, “There was an emotional intensity of being war leaders with much of the world against them. That is enough to put you on your knees and get you praying together.”

Tony Blair, Mr. Brown’s predecessor, suffered a sharp loss of support as the public grew increasingly disenchanted with the conflict in Iraq, and particularly with what it perceived as the then-prime minister’s overly close relationship with Mr. Bush. That led to Mr. Blair’s being tagged with the sobriquet “Bush’s poodle.”

Since Mr. Brown took over at 10 Downing Street on June 27, the British press has watched closely for any sign of a break from Mr. Blair’s policies — and it leaped upon the comments by Mr. Alexander and Mr. Malloch Brown as such a sign.

Mr. Alexander’s remarks in particular “severely irritated the [Bush] administration,” the Times newspaper quoted a senior British source as saying. “Douglas Alexander and his team caused a lot more problems for the prime minister than they knew.”

Mr. Brown will use his visit to Washington in the next two weeks “to undo some of the damage,” the newspaper said, quoting another British source. “Gordon Brown is possibly more Atlanticist than Tony Blair, but he needs to refine his message.”

In a newspaper interview published yesterday, newly appointed Foreign Secretary David Miliband joined his boss in insisting that “nothing has changed” between London and Washington.

“With a new Brown government, some people are looking for evidence that our alliance is breaking up,” Mr. Miliband told the News of the World newspaper. “There isn’t any evidence,” he said, “and there won’t be.”

So far, however, Mr. Brown seems to have escaped the public anger that had attached itself to Mr. Blair over his relationship with the United States and the Iraq war.

An ICM poll published in the Sunday Times newspaper showed the prime minister’s ruling Labor Party enjoying its highest support in nearly two years, backed by 40 percent compared with 33 percent for the main opposition Conservative Party.

A News of the World survey showed 53 percent of those interviewed felt Mr. Brown was best equipped to lead the nation, compared with 27 percent for the Conservatives’ young leader, David Cameron.

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