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Bush Meets UK's New PM
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US President George W. Bush met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at Camp David Sunday evening with the two sides are expected to discuss issues including Iraq, Darfur and stalled global trade.

This is the first official visit by Brown since the former Britain's financial minister succeeded Tony Blair on June 27.

Brown, accompanied by Foreign Secretary David Miliband, arrived at Andrews Air Force Base east of Washington just before 5 PM EDT (21:00 GMT) and then headed straight to Bush's Camp David, Maryland retreat for a private dinner, US officials said.

Upon his arrival, Brown said he would use the visit to strengthen Britain-US relations.

"It is firmly in the British national interest that we have a strong relationship with the United States, our single most important bilateral relationship," he said in a statement.

"Because of the values we share, the relationship with the United States is not only strong, but can become stronger in the years ahead."

He denied speculation that the relationship was cooling.

Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, was often accused at home of being too compliant with the policies of US President George W. Bush, especially regarding the Iraq War. Some analysts have urged Brown to be more like Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill, who had close ties with the US, but remained frank about their own goals and policies.

Brown travels to the US buoyed by a surprising degree of public support after a first month in office in which he impressed with his sober handling of the terror plots in London and Glasgow.

Many observers expected Brown to flop because of a personality often derided as dour and brooding - yet these very traits have helped him appear serious and statesmanlike.

Britons actually seem pleased with the contrast to the kinetic Blair - and the new leader is riding high in polls. But questions abound over whether the intellectual Brown will kindle Blair's chemistry with Bush.

Visits to Camp David and the United Nations, where Brown will make a speech, are highlights of the leader's first major overseas visit since he ended his 10-year wait to succeed Blair.

Brown arrives with some thorny issues in his policy folder, not least the fate of Britain's remaining soldiers in Iraq.

Military chiefs in London have said Britain is likely to hand over control of the southern Iraqi city of Basra to local forces by the end of the year, a move certain to spark a domestic clamor for more British troop withdrawals.

In London, The Sunday Times reported that Simon McDonald, Brown's chief foreign policy adviser, recently traveled to Washington to meet with US officials ahead of the prime minister's visit and discussed the possibility of an early British military withdrawal from Iraq.

But Downing Street said Brown would not use his American visit to change Britain's current plan of keeping its troops in southern Iraq until the Iraqi army is capable of maintaining security there.

Other difficult themes include the American push to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, the Iran nuclear controversy, Darfur issue, and the status of the Serbian province of Kosovo.

Brown will be boosted in potentially testy talks with Bush about Iraq by his strong domestic standing, with polls showing his Labor Party has recaptured its lead over the Conservatives.

Such has been the impact of the "Brown Bounce" that one opposition party chief last week put his lawmakers on high alert for a possible surprise autumn election - despite the fact Brown can wait until 2010 before calling a poll.

Many analysts believe Brown is itching for the legitimacy bestowed by winning an electoral mandate.

He got the keys to No 10 Downing St by securing his party's blessing after Blair stepped down - not through a popular vote.

(China Daily via agencies, Xinhua News Agency, July 30, 2007)

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