News24

Obama praises 'smart' Cameron

2010-05-13 09:15

Washington - US President Barack Obama offered a lavish endorsement of David Cameron on Wednesday, as the new British prime minister got down to work on Britain's strained public finances with his new coalition.

Both sides announced, meanwhile, that Foreign Secretary William Hague will make an early trip to Washington on Friday to take up a relationship that was sometimes perceived as awkward under Gordon Brown's premiership.

Obama praised Conservative Party leader Cameron as he took up the reins of a coalition with Britain's Liberal Democrats, which some observers fear may not be sufficiently robust to make tough decisions on the economy.

"I find him to be a smart, dedicated, effective leader and somebody who we are going to be able to work with very effectively," Obama said when asked if the new British government would weaken its commitment to the Afghan war.

"He reaffirmed, without me bringing it up, his commitment to our strategy in Afghanistan."

"And I am confident that the new government is going to recognise that it is in the interest of all the coalition partners to help President Karzai succeed," Obama said as he stood alongside the Afghan leader.

Obama called Cameron on Tuesday moments after he walked into 10 Downing Street as Brown's successor, following five days of bargaining with the Liberal Democrats.

Solid relationship

A British Foreign Office spokesperson said Hague had been invited to Washington on Friday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The US side offered a slightly different account of how the visit came about.

"He offered to come on Friday and she accepted right on the spot and said 'we look forward to having you here'," Clinton spokesperson Philip Crowley told reporters, detailing the five-minute phone call between the two.

Hague said on Tuesday that the new British government wanted a "solid but not slavish relationship" with the United States.

"No doubt we will not agree on everything," he said. "But they remain, in intelligence matters, in nuclear matters, in international diplomacy, in what we are doing in Afghanistan, the indispensable partner of this country."

In comments that will be warmly welcomed in London, Obama praised the "extraordinary, special relationship between the United States and Great Britain; one that outlasts any individual party, any individual leader".

"It is built up over centuries, and it's not going to go away."

Pressure

There have been repeated questions in London and Washington whether Obama is as committed to the relationship with Britain as previous presidents, as he seeks to forge better ties with the developing world.

As Obama's comments showed, Britain is most valued here for signing up to US military operations overseas, like Afghanistan.

But with the British military braced for massive budget cuts, some in Washington wonder how long London will pack a significant punch overseas.

Cameron may also face US pressure on Europe: Traditionally the White House likes to see Britain engaged on the continent.

Cameron's Conservatives, however, are riven with splits over Europe, and their Euro-scepticism may limit their clout on the continent.

Many of the Liberal Democrats are hugely pro-Europe, and the coalition deal appears to have formalised a split in the heart of the new British government.

Synergy

While Obama and Brown forged respect while battling the deepest economic crisis in decades, they seemed an odd political couple.

Some observers say Obama treated Brown brusquely at first, and insulted some Britons when he removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office.

The White House repeatedly denied it snubbed Brown, and despaired of tales of Anglo-US tension whipped up by the British press.

"Cameron is a very smooth, polished character," said Reginald Dale of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

"He has more of the social graces than Gordon Brown, who was an angular, crusty character, who was always seething underneath."

Obama and Cameron, who met in London in 2008, may find some personal synergy. Both are pragmatic, largely non-ideological, and see themselves as the embodiment of political change.

Cameron, the youngest British prime minister in nearly 200 years, will travel to Washington in July to meet Obama, who inspired youthful legions of voters en route to the White House.