Blair to promote foreign policy in election

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Tony Blair has changed his approach in the run-up to the next general election with a "twin-track strategy" that acknowledges international events are likely to overshadow domestic initiatives.

Tony Blair has changed his approach in the run-up to the next general election with a "twin-track strategy" that acknowledges international events are likely to overshadow domestic initiatives.

Blair aides told The Independent yesterday that there had been a "change of heart" and the Government would accept that, since the 11 September attacks, foreign affairs are bound to play a big part in the political debate in Britain. "We are going to stop bewailing the fact that on some days it is impossible to 'move on' from the foreign to domestic agenda," one close ally said. "We have got to talk about both. If you can't ride two horses, you shouldn't be in the circus."

Today the Prime Minister flies to Washington for talks with George Bush that will cement his position as the President's strongest overseas ally but will risk alienating voters in Britain who dislike Mr Blair's close relationship with him.

To answer critics who regard him as the President's "poodle," Mr Blair is confident of winning a strong signal that the Bush administration will put its weight behind efforts to revive the Middle East peace process. Although they will not publish a new blueprint, the two leaders are likely to agree a "work plan" for their officials to take forward. Over dinner tonight the Prime Minister is expected to tell the President that the war on terrorism will be won only if three problems are successfully tackled: Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian question. They will discuss plans to work closely with moderate Palestinians following the expected death of Yasser Arafat.

Cabinet colleagues believe Mr Blair will argue that a greater US commitment to the Middle East will help allay fears that Britain gets little in return for its much-trumpeted special relationship. "Bush owes Tony because he went out on a limb by redeploying British troops so that the US could deal with Fallujah," one minister said yesterday. "The trouble is that the Americans think that Tony is invincible and is going to win the election anyway. The picture at local level is much more patchy."

At President Bush's first meeting with a foreign leader since his re-election last week, Mr Blair will urge him to reach out to European critics such as France and Germany to heal the wounds left by the Iraq war.

Mr Blair will press the President to support Britain's plans to make progress on tackling climate change and poverty in Africa when it holds the presidency of the G8 industrial nations from next January.

He will also oppose military intervention to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions.

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