Friends in Need

By now, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair should have arrived in Washington for discussions with President Bush. It’s a visit that has been arranged on rather short notice.

Bush will be interested in the personal impressions Blair got when he visited Baghdad and saw the new Iraqi government just a few days ago. But although the US media has been speculating that the two of them would announce some sort of troop withdrawal from Iraq this seems to me unlikely in the extreme.

On Iraq, their joint policy at the moment can be little more than hope that the government that is now at least partly in place in Baghdad will be able to exercise some sort of authority, and that this will make it possible to turn at the least a part of the insurgency around.

It’s a faint hope – but it’s what there is.

I suspect that the number one subject they will be discussing is Iran and what to do. And I strongly suspect that Blair will try to convince Bush that there has to be some sort of US direct involvement in some sort of talks with Teheran.

The letter written by President Ahmadinejad to President Bush is increasingly seen as an important signal. And that it is seen as important is obvious from the fact that it is the number one item on the webpage of the president of Iran.

The picture here – with Bush thinking on how to respond – is in fact taken from that webpage.

With the prospect of some sort of direct US involvement – which Teheran is very clearly seeking – it becomes more realistic to ask Iran for some sort of suspension of their enrichment activities. It might work – or it might not. But not trying does not seem to be too wise a policy.

Apart from Iran and Iraq, I would guess that Blair wants to get briefed on the discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert the last few days, and that he wants to give support to the more concilatory parts of what the White House is trying to impress on the new Israel government.

He will undoubtedly stress the clear link between avoiding a deterioation in Palestine and everything else in the Middle East.

And then I would guess they will discuss how to handle the G8 Summit in St Petersburg in July. There was the EU-Russia summit in Sochi yesterday, and there will be the EU-US summit in Vienna in late June, which are also part of these preparations.

Blair stays in Washington also tomorrow. He will then deliver a speech to Georgetown University.

He will need some good publicity from the visit.

His approval ratings, according to the opinion polls, are below those of President Bush.

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