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Clinton Meets With Blair

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Blair Welcomes Clinton To Britain

Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Hong Kong top their agenda

LONDON (AllPolitics, May 29) -- In the first official meeting of two of the world's most powerful leaders, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Britain's new Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed to forge stronger relations and to work together on world affairs that affect both their nations.

As the two men met today in London, a host of topics topped their agenda, including Northern Ireland, the withdrawal of NATO peacekeeping troops from Bosnia and the British handover of Hong Kong. They also discussed shared domestic priorities like education, flexible labor markets, welfare reform, and partnerships with business.

Following their talks, the two leaders greeted the press in a picture-perfect photo-op as sunny skies shone down on the green garden of No. 10 Downing Street.

Recalling the historically "unique partnership" between the U.S. and United Kingdom, Clinton said, "Over the last 50 years, our unbreakable alliance has helped to bring our people unparalleled peace and prosperity and security. It's an alliance based on shared values and common aspirations." (544K wav sound)


Blair said that both men understand that a strong Britain is good for the United States. "We agreed, too, that Britain does not need to choose between being strong in Europe or being close to the United States of America, but that by being strong in Europe, we will further strengthen our relations with the U.S.," Blair said.

Turning to the state of the peace process with Northern Ireland, Clinton stressed the urgency of ending the violence. Saying it is impossible to shoot and talk, Clinton restated that "the goal of this peace process is inclusive talks." (288K wav sound)

"That can only succeed if there is an unequivocal cease-fire in deed and in word. Again, I urge the IRA to lay down their guns for good, and for all parties to turn their efforts to building the peace together."

But as Blair begins his tenure and Northern Ireland prepares for elections, the American president said it was not appropriate to comment on an expanded U.S. role in the peace process. "This is a peace that has to be made by the parties themselves, and we need to let this unfold a little," Clinton said.

Blair said that the U.S. has been helpful to the process in the past, recalling Clinton's visit to Ireland 18 months ago. "The huge optimism and hope that [Clinton] ignited there in the province was tangible. And you know, we want that back again," Blair said.


Acknowledging that the implementation of the Dayton Accord peace process in Bosnia is behind schedule, Clinton insisted that it is still possible to meet the deadline of one year for withdrawing NATO peacekeeping troops from the region.

"We have a lot of work to do in the next year. And so what I want to do is stop talking about what date we're leaving on and start talking about what we're going to do on the only date that matters, which is tomorrow," Clinton said.

In regard to the imminent British handover of Hong Kong to China, Clinton said that he had impressed on Blair the importance that he "work to implement the word and the spirit of the 1984 agreement" and to "make sure that civil liberties are retained."

Blair, who was elected May 1, had met Clinton several times before his election. A blossoming friendship appeared evident as they chatted animatedly during the Russia-NATO signing in Paris this week.

Clinton made light of the constant media comparisons on both sides of the Atlantic between the two men, which have often categorized Blair as a "Clinton-clone."

"I'm sick of it because he's seven years younger than I am and has no gray hair," Clinton joked. The American president also said that it is he who has a lot to learn from his British counterpart on how to gain a 179-seat legislative majority for his party.

Some similarities are only natural, Blair said, as both men are of a new "generation of political leaders." (320K wav sound)

Clinton arrived in London from The Netherlands on the third stop of this week's European trip. The British prime minister and his wife, Cherie, greeted Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on the steps of prime minister's residence before settling down for talks.

"We are absolutely delighted to have you here," Blair said as the two sat down to meet with Blair's Cabinet. Clinton is the first U.S. president to address the British Cabinet since Richard Nixon in 1969.

Sightseeing in London is next on the Clinton's itinerary, although the president said he has already been treated to the "unspeakably beautiful British spring." The couple is scheduled to return to Washington tonight.

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