PM told to shed 'poodle' tag in Washington

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair came under pressure yesterday to dispel his image as President George Bush's "poodle" by winning real concessions when they meet in Washington later this week.

Tony Blair came under pressure yesterday to dispel his image as President George Bush's "poodle" by winning real concessions when they meet in Washington later this week.

The Prime Minister will cement his position as the American President's closest overseas ally by being the first foreign leader to visit him since his re-election last week. But Mr Blair's critics warned that a symbolic visit would not be enough and urged him to press the Bush administration to change its stance on the Middle East and climate change.

Mr Blair received a boost when former president George Bush Snr hinted that his son would bow to pressure to move faster on the Middle East peace process in his second term. He said there was a "real opportunity" to make progress and suggested that the replacement of Yasser Arafat, who is seriously ill, might help the process.

He told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme: "There is an opportunity and I think Tony Blair was heard loud and clear in Washington about what he was calling for. Blair is 100 per cent correct. And I think he will find the President a willing and able partner, particularly if there is a change in leadership in the PLO that we can deal with more openly and more confidence."

But Michael Ancram, the Tories' shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "In the past, it has been clear that Tony Blair has consistently failed to put Britain's case to President Bush and has merely followed his lead. Given President Bush's clear majority and strengthened position, this must be the moment when the British Prime Minister ensures that Britain's voice is not only heard loud and clear, but is also given good account."

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, said Mr Blair had to do more than act as a bridge between the US and Europe. "I don't think Mr Blair should just see his role as a somewhat tarnished go- between, shuttling between Europe and the other side of the Atlantic," he said.

Lord Hattersley, Labour's former deputy leader, accused Mr Blair of adopting "neo-conservative" economic policies. He told ITV's GMTVprogramme yesterday: "It may be that, with the confidence of a second term, President Bush is prepared to have a dialogue with Europe, but while Tony Blair is prepared to march in step, in whatever direction the President is going, the Germans and the French and other major European powers won't be prepared to do that."

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