Politics: Brainstorming on agenda of Blair's US visit

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, are to fly to Washington just three weeks after their return yesterday from a five-day trip to Japan.

Part of the visit to meet President Bill Clinton and senior United States politicians will be a "brainstorming" event and the focus could be on tackling crime, in which case Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, would go along too, and the Prime Minister could use the visit to give a public vote of confidence in him.

Mr Blair has lavished praise on his Home Secretary twice in three days, insisting that he behaved "superbly" in his handling of allegations that his son, William, 17, sold cannabis to an undercover reporter.

The brainstorming event follows a similar session last year at Chequers when First Lady Hillary Clinton and a group of US experts discussed with Mr Blair and British experts issues such as healthcare.

The Prime Minister also hopes to use the visit to "sell" to politicians with an interest in Northern Ireland the British and Irish governments' handling of the peace-process.

For the second time since taking office, Mr Blair plans to fly on Concorde to the US for the visit, between 4 and 7 February. To mark Britain's presidency of the European Union, Downing Street is considering taking along a group of London-based journalists working for European newspapers and media organisations as an experiment.