- - Monday, March 12, 2012

LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to the White House on Tuesday is meant to solidify ties with the United States, particularly in areas of defense and trade, ahead of NATO and Group of Eight meetings in May, U.S. and British officials said.

The trip comes 10 months after President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama met Mr. Cameron and his wife, Samantha, in London during a state visit organized by Queen Elizabeth II.

The visit also is meant to underscore the so-called “special relationship” between the two countries, even as analysts struggle to define it.

“It ain’t what it used to be, but it’s still special, perhaps just not as salient,” said Charles A. Kupchan, a former National Security Council director on European affairs and a professor at Georgetown University.

Observers began questioning Mr. Obama’s commitment to the special relationship when he removed a bust of Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, from the White House shortly after his inauguration in 2009. He also was criticized when he gave former Prime Minister Gordon Brown a collection of classic American films that do not work on British DVD players.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Cameron will fly to Ohio Tuesday evening to attend an NCAA men’s basketball game at the University of Dayton. Last year, the two leaders played ping-pong against students in South London.

The first lady and Mrs. Cameron will stay in Washington to take part in an event with fifth-graders from local schools to celebrate the upcoming Summer Olympics in London and promote Mrs. Obama’s anti-obesity program.

On Wednesday, a group of 12 students from an all-girls high school in North London that Mrs. Obama visited in 2009 will go to the White House to meet Mrs. Cameron and the first lady.

The trip to Ohio will mark the first time a foreign leader will fly aboard Air Force One and is meant as a sign of the countries’ “special relationship” and the two leaders’ “personal bond,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters last week.

Mr. Obama also will host a state dinner for the Camerons on Wednesday evening.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Cameron will continue a conversation begun in Britain last year on the future of the U.S.-British military partnership as they prepare for a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20. They also will discuss plans for a meeting of the G-8 industrialized nations at the presidential retreat, Camp David, on May 18.

The two leaders are also likely to talk about Iran, the Greater Middle East, the European debt crisis and the establishment of stronger trade ties with Asia and other emerging markets.

“There really is a feeling that in recent years the two sides have been distracted - Britain over Europe and the U.S. over wars in the Middle East - and there is a real need to focus on what is important long term and what is strategic,” said Xenia Dormandy of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, widely known as Chatham House.

Last month, Mr. Cameron’s office said British troops will relinquish their lead combat role in Afghanistan by the end of 2013 under plans drawn up by the NATO-led alliance. Mr. Obama has set the end of 2014 for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Cameron will want to ensure the two countries have their timetables for withdrawal of troops in 2014 from Afghanistan in sync,” said Nick Kitchen, an analyst at the London School of Economics.

The White House is also likely to address concerns over the British government’s austerity measures, particularly defense cuts.

In September, the British Defense Ministry released the 2010 a Strategic Defense and Security Review, which emphasized leaner operations and more reliance on alliances and partnerships.

Facing similar fiscal constraints, the United States announced in January a reduction in its defense budget as part of a broader realignment of economic and security focus on the Asia-Pacific.



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