CAMP DAVID, Md. – President Bush and Britain’s new prime minister, Gordon Brown, emphasized Monday that their nations are united by shared values and a deep commitment to defeat global terrorism.
But Brown also telegraphed his differences from the U.S. president over the issue, choosing to define the struggle as a fight against crime, instead of a war on terrorism. He called Afghanistan, not Iraq, the front line.
The overnight visit to Bush’s Camp David retreat was Brown’s first trip to the United States since he took over in June from Tony Blair, who had an unusually close friendship with Bush and was an unwavering supporter of the Iraq war.
Brown used the short news conference to signal that, while the United States and Great Britain are the diplomatic version of best friends, there are subtle differences in perspective, if not policy.
In his opening comments, Brown avoided using the term “war on terror” and asserted that “terrorism is not a cause, it is a crime.”
He also described Afghanistan as the “front line against terrorism.” Bush usually describes the war in Iraq that way.
British commentators were quick to point out that Brown did not return Bush’s effusive compliments. And Brown’s request that both leaders wear suits sent a signal that the meeting was business, not pleasure.
The British prime minister, wary of the political damage Blair suffered over his closeness to the Bush administration, has given little indication he would like to replicate that relationship with Bush.
Instead, through his initial appointments and policy statements, Brown has hinted at a forthcoming drawdown of British troops in Iraq.
Bush was clearly aware that Brown was walking a fine line and made a point of saying that Britain is as important to the United States as the other way around. “I would say that the relationship between Great Britain and America is our most important bilateral relationship,” he said.
Still, the different language the two leaders employed on Iraq and Afghanistan stood out. When he was questioned about it, Brown appeared to smooth over the difference by saying that Afghanistan was “the first line in the battle against the Taliban.”
Brown’s official spokesman, who is not quoted by name according to British convention, said the prime minister meant both that Afghanistan is the “front line” and the “first line.”
“What he meant was that Afghanistan was the front line and remains the front line where we are taking on the Taliban and al-Qaida,” the spokesman said.