WASHINGTON — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Thursday met the Democratic and Republican candidates for president and then held talks with the man they hope to succeed, underscoring both the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Britain and the short time that George W. Bush has left in office.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive GOP nominee, and the Democratic contenders, Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, interrupted their campaigning to meet Brown at the British ambassador's residence in Washington's leafy diplomatic enclave.
There were no news conferences after the meetings. But Brown clearly was intent on ensuring that Britain's close ties with the United States endure no matter who wins the American election.
"Britain and America can work well, do work well and will continue, in my view, to work very well in the future," he said after first meeting Obama, then Clinton and finally with McCain.
In statements, Obama and Clinton said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global economic downturn were among the subjects they discussed with Brown.
Appearing later at a White House news conference after talks with Bush, Brown sidestepped a question about whether he felt a "special kinship" with any of the presidential contenders, saying he was "delighted" to have met them all.
"What I was convinced of after talking to each of them, and talking about the issues that concern them and concern the world, is that the relationship between America and Britain will remain strong, remain steadfast," Brown continued. "It will be one that will be able to rise to the challenges of the future."
Brown and Bush — both facing economic problems and low popularity ratings — denied that ties had soured somewhat since July, when Brown succeeded Tony Blair, whose support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and other administration policies earned him the sobriquet "Bush's poodle."
"There are significant tensions between Brown and the Bush administration, largely over Iraq, but also with regard to Afghanistan, Iran and the wider role on terror," said Nile Gardiner, an expert on U.S.-British relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "In London, the threat (of terrorism) is perceived largely as a law and order problem, not a global conflict, and that's quite a change from Tony Blair's approach."
Brown will have differences with whoever succeeds Bush, too, Gardiner continued.
He can expect to disagree about Iraq with McCain, who advocates a long-term U.S. military presence, and over trade with the Democrats, both of whom are more protectionist than the British government, Gardiner said.
While they see eye to eye on many issues, such as ending the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and tightening sanctions on Iran for defying U.N. demands to suspend uranium enrichment, Brown has differed with Bush in some critical areas. He also doesn't enjoy the same personal rapport that his predecessor shared with Bush.
Brown's government has instituted a phased reduction of British troops in Iraq — put on hold following the eruption of fighting earlier this month in the southern city of Basra — much to Washington's consternation.
London also has taken a less confrontational approach to Islamic radicalism than the Bush administration has, called for a smaller U.S. nuclear arsenal than that approved by Bush and urged the administration to end its opposition to U.S. ratification of a global ban on underground nuclear tests.
"We've got a great relationship," Bush said. "Listen, our special relationship has been forged in common values in history, and we're making history together."
"This is a special relationship not just of governments, but of peoples," agreed Brown.
(Margaret Talev contributed.)