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Bush welcomes ally Blair to White House

War in Iraq, Middle East peace process under discussion


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President Bush welcomes British Prime Minister Tony Blair to the White House.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush welcomed his staunchest ally in the Iraq war, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to the White House Thursday evening.

Blair's visit is the first by a head of government since Bush won re-election last week.

The president's controversial Iraq policy played a pivotal role in the campaign battle.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited Bush at the White House on Wednesday. (Full story)

Blair arrived at the White House just before 7 p.m., when the two leaders shook hands and walked inside without addressing reporters to begin their two-day visit.

In addition to the war in Iraq and Britain's upcoming elections in January, the Middle East peace process is also expected to be a focus of discussion -- an issue that has taken on even more urgency after the death early Thursday morning of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. (Full story)

Last week, in congratulating the president on his victory over Democratic Sen. John Kerry, Blair called the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the world's "single most pressing political challenge."

Bush has said a change in the Palestinian leadership could be an opportunity to move toward a two-state solution, in which an independent Palestinian state and Israel would co-exist in peace.

Blair's unwavering support of Bush's Iraq policy has come at a political cost in Britain, where many in the prime minister's own Labor Party opposed the war.

It has also put the British leader in the middle between the United States and Bush's European critics.

At a news briefing in London Thursday, Blair's official spokesman said the two leaders would discuss "how things would be moved forward" in relations between the United States and Europe.

Last week, in announcing the meeting, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said it was part of Bush's effort to reach out to Europeans "to promote development and progress, to defeat the terrorists and to encourage freedom and democracy as alternatives to tyranny and terror."


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