Bush, Blair at Odds on African Aid, Global Warming
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The British leader who's been criticized for his close support of President Bush spent yesterday politely discussing areas where the two disagree. Prime Minister Tony Blair had dinner at the White House last night. He was the president's most important ally in Iraq. Now Blair is pressing the president to embrace parts of his agenda. Here's NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.
DON GONYEA reporting:
There were the usual niceties when President Bush and his guest stood before US and British reporters in the ornate East Room of the White House.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I appreciate your leadership, Tony Blair. I appreciate your friendship. I appreciate your courage. And I appreciate your vision. Welcome back to America.
Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Britain): Thank you very much, indeed, Mr. President, and I say how delighted we are to be back here in the White House and to say thank you for your warm welcome.
GONYEA: But Blair had come here to make a pitch for assistance in two foreign policy areas that he has made a priority: aid for Africa and global warming. Both will be on the agenda at the annual G8 meeting of the world's leading industrial nations he hosts next month in Scotland. On Africa, Blair is proposing major increases in the amount of aid the international community contributes.
Prime Min. BLAIR: We set out a figure of the doubling of aid and a $25 billion extra is effectively what that would mean, but the important thing is not to take the figure out of the air but to realize the Commission for Africa reached that figure on the basis of an analysis of what Africa needs.
GONYEA: Blair would like the US to commit to increasing its own contributions significantly beyond what it is currently doing. Britain is proposing what's been described as a new Marshall Plan after the program that helped rebuild Europe after World War II, but the White House has given the idea the cold shoulder, with the president saying his administration has already tripled its own contributions to Africa in the past four years, including 1.4 billion for the current fiscal year.
Pres. BUSH: What I'd like to say is my administration actually does what we say we're going to do, and we have. When I said we're going to make a commitment to triple aid in Africa, I meant it, and we did.
GONYEA: The US did pledge another $674 million targeted for famine relief in Africa. Blair offered praise, but it's far less than what he was pushing for. Then there's the issue of climate change. Europeans have long complained about Bush administration environmental policies dating back to the president's decision to walk away from the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty in his first months in office. Blair is trying to initiate a new international effort to address the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. But yesterday, the president did not directly answer a question asking if he believes that problem is manmade.
Pres. BUSH: I've always said it's a serious long-term issue that needs to be dealt with, and my administration isn't waiting around to deal with the issue. We're acting. I don't know if you're aware of this, but we lead the world when it comes to dollars spent, millions of dollars spent on research about climate change. We want to know more about it. It's easier to solve a problem when you know a lot about it.
GONYEA: Prime Minister Blair, in the absence of any real movement, offered this.
Prime Min. BLAIR: I think everyone knows there are different perspectives on this issue.
GONYEA: And there was one question yesterday about Iraq, specifically about a memo written in 2002 by a British intelligence official some eight months prior to the start of the Iraq War. Known as the Downing Street Memo, it alleges that US and British officials altered or fixed the facts and intelligence to support the case for war. The memo was first published in The Times of London some five weeks ago. Yesterday, the two leaders were asked about what many of their critics see as a smoking gun regarding the decision to go to war. First, Blair.
Prime Min. BLAIR: Well, I can respond to that very easily. No, the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all.
GONYEA: And the president.
Pres. BUSH: And so we worked hard to see if we could figure how to do this peacefully, to put a united front up to Saddam Hussein. So the world speaks and he ignored the world.
GONYEA: It was the one area yesterday where there was absolute agreement between the president and the prime minister.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.