Obama snubs Clegg's request for meeting


Click to follow

The White House has turned down a request for Nick Clegg to have a one-to-one meeting with Barack Obama when he visits Britain this week.

Aides to the Deputy Prime Minister tried to secure an audience and a photo opportunity with the President as part of his first state visit to Britain.

Mr Obama is due to meet the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband for an hour at Buckingham Palace, so the Liberal Democrats had hoped that the White House would agree to a similar meeting with Mr Clegg.

However government sources said the request has been turned down by Washington. It is understood they felt that as President it would not be appropriate for him to have a one-to-one meeting with a Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Clegg will meet Mr Obama – but at all times David Cameron will be in the room.

There would have been a precedent for Mr Clegg to have a private audience with Mr Obama as Liberal Democrat leader. When George Bush visited the UK in 2003 he had a private meeting with the then Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, even though Mr Kennedy had been strongly critical of the Iraq war and Guantanamo Bay.

At the meeting, President Bush famously forgot Mr Kennedy's name and was reduced to calling him "Mr Leader".

It is a sign of tensions between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives that Mr Clegg's officials blame the Tories for leaking news of the supposed White House "snub".

Increasingly the Coalition partners are briefing against one another in ways which would have been inconceivable before the acrimonious AV referendum campaign.

Last night Liberal Democrat sources insisted that Mr Clegg would have "substantive meetings" with the President as part of the Government and insisted that an official request for a "one-to-one" had not been made. "There was an option, which was investigated, for Mr Clegg to have a one-to-one meeting with the President as leader of the Liberal Democrats but we preferred to do it in a Government capacity," one source said.

Mr Obama and the First Lady fly into London on Tuesday. The couple will be met by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall before flying to Buckingham Palace where they will stay until Thursday.

During the visit he will address both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall, lay a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey and attend a state banquet at Buckingham Palace. In the political part of the visit he will hold talks with Mr Cameron in Downing Street which will focus on the coalition's exit strategy from Afghanistan, the situation in Libya as well as a replacement for Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the IMF.

Mr Cameron is thought to be keen to ensure that the US rule out Gordon Brown's candidature for the job.

As well as bilateral talks at 10 Downing Street, the President and Mr Cameron will attend an event hosted by their wives to honour military families from the US and UK.

A senior Obama administration official said yesterday that America had "no closer ally" in the world than the UK. "The US and UK of course enjoy a special relationship," the deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said.

The visit forms part of a six-day European trip, which will see Mr Obama travel to Ireland, France and Poland.