Blair to defend Bush over missile defence

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will strike a conciliatory tone towards the US "son of Star Wars" missile defence programme today to mark President George Bush's first official visit to the UK.

Mr Blair will tell Mr Bush that he "understands" US concerns about the "spread of weapons of mass destruction" and that there is "a shared analysis of the problem".

But Mr Bush will make it clear that the US intends to develop, test and deploy the anti-missile shield, even though it would breach the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty signed during the Cold War with the former Soviet Union. Before he left for Britain on Air Force One, he said: "The Europeans heard me once, and they'll hear me again, say that the Cold War is over, that Russia is not our enemy and that we should not adhere to a treaty that prevents the United States and other freedom-loving people from developing defences.

"I find Tony Blair to be somebody ... who like me will put a 100 per cent effort into making sure the relationship between America and Great Britain is unique and strong," he said.

Mr Blair's polite words on missile defence will anger Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, more than 200 of whom have signed a Commons motion expressing grave worries about American plans for the "Star Wars" programme.

However, today's talks, at the Prime Minister's official residence at Chequers, are likely to stall over climate change. Mr Blair will express grave concerns about Mr Bush's decision not to ratify the Kyoto protocol on tackling global warming.

Yesterday Mr Blair's official spokesman admitted there was no agreement with the Bush administration on Kyoto and that they would "agree to disagree." He said: "We remain committed to the Kyoto Protocol. We believe that it is important that we move this forward. I'm sure that the Prime Minister will underline to President Bush that for the UK and EU this is a serious issue of substance."

Mr Bush spent his first night in Britain at the US Ambassador's residence. Today he will have lunch with the Queen and visit the British Museum and Cabinet war rooms before travelling to Chequers.

Downing Street yesterday stressed "how much importance we attach to the UK/US relationship". But opposition MPs called on Mr Blair to take a bullish stance on missile defence and Kyoto.

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: "Amid all the diplomatic niceties, it is time for Mr Blair to indulge in some plain speaking. The Bush administration's attitude towards Kyoto and missile defence is at odds with virtually all of its allies. Mr Bush can flex his muscles but he can hardly be surprised if this is a cause for alarm amongst friends."

Mr Bush will face criticism from other states at the G8 summit in Genoa this week about the "Star Wars' initiative and his decision to press ahead with missile testing.

But Mr Blair may find himself defending America's stance in Europe. A Downing Street spokesman: "He is concerned at the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and missile technology, just as the Americans are."