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A special relationship? Cameron to meet Obama

By Felicity Spector

Updated on 19 July 2010

David Cameron will arrive in Washington tomorrow for his first bilateral talks with President Obama since taking office - their meeting overshadowed by rows over BP, Afghanistan and how to drag the world's economies out of recession.

Cameron and Obama (Credit: Getty)

Relations between Obama and Gordon Brown never reached the dizzy heights of the Blair-Bush years. In March, the Foreign Affairs select committee recommended dropping the term "special relationship" altogether.

Despite the new coalition government, the same tensions remain, and there are some new ones.

The meeting tomorrow will be dominated by the Afghan war, the financial crisis and the Gulf Oil spill, and complicated by those allegations about BP's role in the release of the Lockerbie bomber from prison in Scotland.

Downing Street is keen to play up the "strong common agenda" between the two leaders, but in reality, there are substantial differences.

On Afghanistan - the timetable for withdrawing allied forces - which the US plans to begin in July next year. On the global downturn - Mr Obama's strategy of stimulus spending to revive the US economy is at odds with Mr Cameron's drive for sweeping spending cuts to tackle Britain's deficit. And now BP, or 'British Petroleum' as it is deliberately called by some politicians in the US.

On the oil spill itself - the prime minister has said he will stand up for the oil giant as it fights against pressure for unlimited compensation claims in the Gulf states affected by the disaster.

Downing Street has insisted speculation over BP's role in the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi "may come up" but won't be "a major issue", Mr Cameron himself has insisted the decision to free Megrahi was "completely and utterly wrong", and foreign secretary William Hague has stressed there is no evidence BP had anything to do with it.

In the spirit of austerity-living, and perhaps a nod to the environment, Mr Cameron will travel from Washington to New York by train (the more expensive Acela express, one imagines, rather than Amtrak's slower trains).

In New York the prime minister will meet more business leaders and UN chief Ban Ki-moon to discuss the forthcoming summit on the Millennium Development Goals.

As Mr Cameron prepares to jet off for the States (on a commercial flight) he might choose to avoid the advice from President Reagan's former speechwriter Peggy Noonan, in the Daily Telegraph. She advises the prime minister not to "imitate" Barack Obama, describing him as a disappointment - and a "detached academic who believed in abstract notions he'd picked up in the faculty lounge". 

Noonan also pleads for special treatment for her beleaguered native land. "Love America. It not only deserves it, at the moment it needs it...And don't focus group it. Mean it."

With wars, crises and environmental disaster framing their talks - it is hard to imagine that Cameron and Obama will have much time for declarations of love.

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