(AFP) - Prime Minister Tony Blair is set to travel to Washington for talks with US President George W. Bush, just as an eagerly-awaited report on options for violence-scarred Iraq is published.
Blair will also meet congressional leaders in Washington Thursday following the release of the findings of the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former US secretary of state James Baker, reports Trend.
Its report, published Wednesday, was expected to recommend a phased withdrawal of US troops and a new diplomatic offensive, including direct US talks with Iran and Syria, according to the latest leaks.
Blair's spokesman has said the timing of the visit was a "happy coincidence," but downplayed suggestions that the talks will be dominated by the report.
The "report is an independent report and therefore it's a matter for them (the Americans) to talk about," he said, adding: "The prime minister did give evidence last month and we briefed on the evidence at the time."
Both Blair and Bush have faced a growing wave of opposition and calls for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq, which US and British troops invaded in March 2003, overthrowing president Saddam Hussein.
The crunch study comes in the wake of US mid-term elections in which Bush's Republican Party lost control of Congress, triggering the resignation of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Bush last week dismissed speculation that he was planning a pull-out. "This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever," he said after talks in Jordan with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
But Blair's government -- which has some 7,100 troops in southern Iraq -- said recently it hoped to hand over control to Iraqi forces early next year, planning to have thousands of its troops out of the country by the end of 2007.
The prime minister, who angered many of his European counterparts by backing Washington over the war in Iraq, will clearly need to coordinate any change of strategy now with Bush.
The Washington trip could also be an opportunity to try to influence US strategic thinking before any decisions are taken -- which critics accused Blair of failing to do three years ago.
Potential points of difference between the two men could centre on Syria and Iran: Blair recently offered Tehran a conditional partnership, while Bush still sees the Islamic state as part of an axis of evil.
The talks come after US defence secretary nominee Robert Gates said he was open to new ideas on Iraq and said "all options are on the table" to salvage the US mission there.
Hours before Blair's departure for Washington, Blair was likely to face renewed questions on Iraq at his weekly question and answer session in the House of Commons, scheduled for midday (1200 GMT).