No timeframe for end of British role in Iraq: British PM

April 18th, 2008 - 5:33 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
Washington, April 18 (DPA) US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown agreed Thursday that any additional troop withdrawals in Iraq would be determined by conditions on the ground, while Brown asserted there would be “no artificial timetable” for an end to Britain’s role. Speaking at the White House with President George W. Bush, Brown said the British military has made progress in training Iraqi security forces but that there was still more work to do.

“Our role in training the Iraqis … to assume more control of their own affairs is the way that we want to move from combat to overwatch in Iraq,” Brown said.

“There’s no artificial timetable here,” he said.

Brown had hoped to reduce the British troop presence below the current 4,000, but those plans were put on hold last month when violence erupted in the southern city of Basra between Shia militants and Iraqi security forces.

“I’m interested in succeeding in Iraq,” Bush said. “This is a mission that is succeeding on the security front. It’s getting better on the economic front. And it’s improving on the political front. And therefore my statement has been we’ll have the troops there necessary to succeed.”

Brown met with Bush at the White House for discussions on a wide array of issues and in an attempt to put an end to speculation that US-British relations were not as tight as they were under Brown’s predecessor Tony Blair.

The two leaders pledged to work closely together on a host of international issues, including keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, fighting terrorism, ending the conflict in Darfur, combating poverty and disease, resolving the political crisis in Zimbabwe and countering global warming.

They acknowledged the world economy has weakened but sought to assure reporters that they have taken adequate steps to address the international credit crunch and pump tax dollars back into the hands of consumers to boost spending.

“We’re in a rough patch right now,” Bush said, while urging nations to continue to support free trade and avoid the temptation of protectionist economic policies.

Brown also called on other countries to increase emergency food aid to fend off high commodity prices that have sparked food shortages among the world’s poor.

“We want to work with the World Bank and agricultural producers to enhance food supply, tackle food shortages and increase agricultural production,” Brown said.

Bush announced $200 million in emergency food spending on Monday and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that Washington in the coming weeks would step up assistance. The US provides $1.2 billion in food aid each year - about half the world’s total.

Bush and Brown met for more than an hour before holding a press conference in the White House’s Rose Garden. They also planned to dine together at the White House Thursday evening.

Blair’s close relationship with Bush and the unpopularity of the Iraq war is believed to have led to Blair’s downfall and led many to believe the relationship would not be the same under Brown.

“False,” Bush quickly responded when a reporter suggested the US-British relations were not as tight.

“We’ve got a great relationship,” Bush said, adding that he valued his personal friendship with Brown or “I wouldn’t be inviting the man to a nice hamburger or something.”

Brown sought to also dismiss talk that the relationship was not as strong, noting that US-British relations have better served the world in recent decades than any other international partnership.

“And following our excellent meeting, I’m able to report that the bond between our two countries is stronger than ever,” he said.

Brown earlier met separately with Democratic presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as well as with the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain. Clinton and Obama have pledged gradual withdrawals from Iraq if they win the presidency, while McCain backed Bush’s troop surge and is more likely to stay the course.

The White House said Bush did not feel slighted over Brown’s meetings with the candidates before meeting with the current president.

“It’s probably a wise move by the prime minister to get to know who - one of the individuals who will likely be president in a year from now,” spokesman Tony Fratto said. “So it makes sense.”

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