Britain is 'failing to stand up to Bush'

A delegation of United States Democrat congressmen has attacked Britain and its European Union partners for failing to stand up to President George Bush's attempts to block new targets to alleviate global poverty.

But Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, rebuffed the criticism, saying Britain and its EU partners could not impose their views on the US, nor seek a confrontational stance against those they disagreed with. Britain and the EU would continue negotiating until consensus was reached on several contentious issues, she said.

The Democrats accused the Bush administration of blocking plans to alleviate poverty and promote clean economic growth. California Congressman George Miller said: "The US administration is becoming somewhat of an obstructionist in terms of meeting the goals of sustainable development."

Jerry Brown, the Mayor of Oakland, California, said there was no reason for Britain and the EU not to effectively challenge Mr Bush's environmental policies. "There are two Americas – the America of George Bush, of isolation and retreating from cooperation with the nations of the world," Mr Brown said. "Then there is the America of cities and states who are aggressively pursuing efforts to meet our responsibilities."

The Bush administration is opposed to setting targets on the provision of sanitation, on the reduction of harmful farm subsidies and the promotion of renewable energy, and is not prepared to commit any new aid money for meeting any existing targets on these issues.

Congressional Democrats are keen to use perceived weaknesses in Mr Bush's environmental policy to wrest control of Congress from the Republicans in the mid-term November elections. The Democrats control the Senate.

Mr Bush will not join 106 other world leaders at the Earth Summit and will be represented by his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, a decision criticised by the Democrats.

The United States is also leading resistance to any effort to go beyond a World Trade deal struck in Doha last year to phase out export subsidies and to make "substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support". The Bush administration is also opposed to the international treaty designed to slow global warming.