Blair and Bush to meet in Washington to discuss Israel, Lebanon

Iran Materials 26 July 2006 12:37 (UTC +04:00)

(AFP) - Prime Minister Tony Blair flies to the United States on Friday for talks with President George W. Bush on Israel and Lebanon as international efforts increase to resolve the conflict.

But his second visit to the White House in less than two months comes amid renewed questions about what influence he has on a US president bullish in his support for Israel despite overwhelming condemnation by most other countries, reports Trend.

According to some British political commentators, Bush's preference for his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to mediate in the dispute demonstrates how the "special relationship" between London and Washington is far from equal.

A Guardian/ICM poll this week suggested that Blair was wrong in refusing to condemn the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, which has killed some 400 people, many of them civilians, and forced over 40,000 others to flee.

But according to one analyst, to see Bush's closest ally in the so-called "war on terror", Iraq and Afghanistan as supine would be to misunderstand the ups and downs of the very particular Anglo-US relationship.

"It's easy to see Blair as a poodle but take the Kosovo war. Who was the real enthusiast there? Blair. (Former US president Bill) Clinton was resistant to a ground war," said US foreign policy specialist Robert McGeehan.

"(The special relationship) does exist; we know it's lopsided but we do have a lot

of examples when it does work," he added, citing US help to Allied troops in World War II as well as the mutual co-operation throughout the Cold War.

"This is a relationship that doesn't exist between any other two countries in the world," he said, pointing to the depth of day-to-day relations between the Foreign Office in London and the State Department in Washington.

On the talks themselves, which will dominate Blair's four-day trip, some British-based Middle East analysts believe the two leaders will make few inroads.

The complexity of the Middle East situation, the need to consider Syria and Iran, which back the Hezbollah militants and could pose problems for US and British troops in Iraq, means any quick fix is unlikely, they said.

McGeehan's colleague at the London-based Chatham House foreign affairs think-tank, Nadim Shehadi, said Blair was bringing nothing to the table.

"He's not taking anything with him as a solution other than the case for a ceasefire," said the specialist on Lebanon and the Middle East peace process.

"But a ceasefire is always very difficult because the Israelis are losing on the ground, they haven't achieved any of their objectives, so stopping would be an admission of defeat."

Yet for Yossi Mekelberg, a lecturer in international relations and politics at the British-American College in London, even a sidelined Blair could still play a role in obtaining an effective global response to the crisis.

"I don't think Blair and Bush can do it themselves. They need the full backing of the international community, particularly Europe," he told AFP.

"I think Britain and Blair can play the part of a bridge. Britain is in Europe and has strong historic ties and has shown the loyalty beyond the call of duty to the US."

After Washington, Blair is due to head to the US west coast to visit British business and technology interests.

He will also address a meeting of senior executives of influential media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation group.

Blair's relationship with Murdoch dates back to 1995 when the US-Australian magnate's tabloid British best-selling newspaper The Sun switched allegiances from the then-Conservative government and backed Blair.

The move was seen as helping his landslide election victory in 1997 but relations are now thought to be strained because of the dwindling popularity of the prime minister, his party and domestic policies.

Murdoch last month criticised Blair's decision to announce he will not stand for a fourth term of office and refusal to name his departure date.