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Despite cordial meeting, U.S.-UK ties drifting apart

07-22-2010 10:31 BJT

By Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, July 21 (Xinhua) -- On the face of it, British Prime Minister David Cameron's visit with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday looked like a meeting of old friends reaffirming their relationship.

But a closer look reveals that Washington's "special relationship" with London isn't so special anymore, and a changing geopolitical landscape is causing the two to drift apart, some experts said.

"They are trying to take the 'special' out of the 'special relationship' and just trying to make it another businesslike relationship," said Fiona Hill, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution.

"(One that) does not necessarily stand out from all the other bilateral relationships in the larger European context," said Hill.

"They don't want to go back to the days when Britain was the lynchpin of the transatlantic relationship and the bridge to Europe, because Britain isn't a very good bridge to Europe," she said, noting Britain's traditional Euro-skepticism.

While the Obama administration wants ties with key players in Europe, it is placing more emphasis on its bond with the European Union, she said.

"That's really where the big economic relationship is."

Marko Papic, senior Eurasia analyst at global intelligence company Stratfor, said while the two remain allies, Obama is not as close to Britain as past U.S. presidents.

Moreover, Washington is at odds with London over how to handle the recession that continues to grip much of the globe, he noted.

At the recent G20 summit in Toronto, Obama asked world leaders not to be too hasty in making budget cuts. While Britain is seeking to implement deep austerity measures, there is no talk within the Obama administration of making similar cutbacks.

All the while Washington continues on what some view as an unprecedented spending spree.

The United States is also focused on getting out of Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that his forces would be ready to take over security from U.S. troops in 2014 - whereas London's main concern is the recession and does not view the war with the same immediacy as Washington, he said, despite having 9,500 troops deployed there.

The rise of Germany as a leader in the European Union will also play a role in U.S.-UK relations, as Washington has historically looked to London as a bridge to Europe.

But Germany's efforts to step to the forefront - it bailed out financially strapped Greece and contributed massively to a 440-billion European emergency fund - will cause the U.S. to question who to call in the future for Europe issues, he said.

"There's that old question - who do you call when you have to talk to Europe? When there's no specific answer to that question, the easiest answer is 'Well you call London and chat with them about what to do with the Europeans,'" he said.

But a rising Germany casts doubt on whether that arrangement will continue.

"If Germany is rising, is the U.S.-UK relationship still as important? Can Britain be that interlocutor that it has been in the past between Europe and the U.S.?"

Meanwhile, the two sides on Tuesday moved to brush aside a couple of prickly issues - the BP oil spill and U.S. allegations that BP may have played a role in the release from prison of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 above Lockerbie, Scotland.

Cameron said he understood U.S. anger over the BP disaster and tried to ease U.S. suspicions of a BP conspiracy to have the Lockerbie bomber released.

Obama avoided terse words heard commonly in Washington since the Gulf of Mexico spill and praised the bond between the two countries.

"The United States and the United Kingdom enjoy a truly special relationship," Obama said at a joint press conference.

"We celebrate a common heritage. We cherish common values. And we speak a common language -- most of the time. We honor the sacrifices of our brave men and women in uniform who have served together, bled together, and even lay at rest together," said the president.

The visit flew under the radar, however, generating little coverage in the U.S. media.

"There was not a lot of hype about this visit," said Hill.

"There used to be a lot of buzz about the visit of a British premier but this has been tamped down, which illustrates that they just wanted to keep this businesslike and move past any drama."

"They are trying to find a new businesslike footing because there has been a lot of BP bashing that has resulted in tensions in the relationship," she said.

The two nations are major trading partners and the BP crisis and Lockerbie scandal have been bad for the overall business climate, she said, adding that relations were strained for some time because of Britain's large scale opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq.


Editor:Zhang Pengfei |Source: Xinhua

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