Blair says meeting with Bush 'productive'
CAMP DAVID, Maryland -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair described his first face-to-face talks with U.S. President George W. Bush as "productive" on Friday during a news conference at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.
Both Bush and Blair said their meeting was useful and they discussed trade, Iraq, NATO and a proposed U.S. missile defense shield.
Bush said the two leaders spent an hour talking about existing U.N. sanctions against Iraq, which the president compared to swiss cheese in their effectiveness.
"I think the prime minister and I both recognize that it is going to be important for us to build a consensus in the region to make the sanctions more effective," Bush said.
"I've been really enthusiastic about our meetings so far," Blair said. "They've been absolutely excellent and very productive as I hoped and expected... we discussed a whole range of issues. I think we've been through all the issues that you would expect, plus some more. And I've found it a very, very useful meeting, indeed."
Blair: No progress on missile defense
Blair indicated that no significant progress had been made on British reservations about the U.S.-proposed missile defense shield.
"We don't have a specific proposal on the table yet," Blair said. "But I understand and share the American concerns, about weapons of mass destruction as I've said many times before."
Earlier, the two leaders took a break from their talks to stand on a bungalow porch in a symbolic display of U.S.-British unity. Bush explained that they chose to pose for photographs on the porch because it was the same spot where former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stood with former President Dwight Eisenhower during their summit decades ago. Afterwards Bush and Blair later went for a walk on the grounds of the compound.
Blair is the first European leader to meet Bush since the president took office last month.
Iraqi attacks defended
Just before the meeting, Blair told CNN that as well as creating a personal relationship they would be building on the countries' much-vaunted shared interests.
"We are usually on the same side of the big issues that face the world."
Bush had already said he was "anxious" to meet Blair, adding: "Britain and the United States have got a special relationship. We'll keep it that way."
Blair defended the U.S. and British air attacks on Iraq -- criticized by Arab and some European countries -- telling CNN that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was a "serial sinner when it comes to weapons of mass destruction and a threat to the world."
The prime minister said the no fly zones and sanctions of the last ten years had ensured Hussein's containment but did say the administrations are now looking at targeting embargoes.
Blair has avoided much public comment on Bush's controversial goal of creating a missile defense shield for North America, which is strongly opposed by Russia, China and some European countries.
But he told CNN he welcomed the administration's "willingness and openness to discuss this."
"We can now discuss how this can be taken forward sensibly."
Asked about Bush's apparent reluctance for a U.S. role as "global policeman" Blair said that the U.S. had a "huge and important strategic role in the world."
"It is obviously important that it acts in own interest but I'm sure it takes a wide interpretation of what that interest is."
The pair are certain to also discuss the planned creation of a Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) in Europe, which America fears will weaken NATO cohesion.
At a news briefing on Thursday, Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice went out of her way to paper over any differences between the countries over the RRF.
"We would be supportive of any efforts by the Europeans to enhance their defence capability; that we believe this is a good thing, as long as it is consistent with the enhancement of NATO."
CNN White House Correspondent Major Garrett and Reuters contributed to this report.
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