Support for Bush 'has harmed UK's reputation'

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Tony Blair was urged yesterday to put some distance between Britain and the Bush administration and not to make his alliance with the US President the cornerstone of British foreign policy.

Tony Blair was urged yesterday to put some distance between Britain and the Bush administration and not to make his alliance with the US President the cornerstone of British foreign policy.

Senior Labour MPs expressed concern at Mr Blair's close relationship with George Bush as he prepared to fly to Washington tomorrow for talks that will be overshadowed by the crisis in Iraq. In a sign of Mr Blair's nervousness, Downing Street confirmed that he would not receive the Congressional Medal of Honour he was awarded nearly a year ago, insisting it was not yet ready.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, told The Independent yesterday that Mr Blair should "recalibrate" his relations with the White House. He said: "Tony Blair's original aim as Prime Minister was that Britain can sit astride a transatlantic relationship as well as a European relationship. That, however, has become warped beyond recognition by the unilateral action in Iraq."

Mr Blair suffered a further rebuff as an influential think tank said that British and US foreign policy was preventing Britain from halting human rights abuses around the world.

In a report out today, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) warned that the war in Iraq and the detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay limited Britain's ability to influence states with poor human rights records.

The report by David Mepham, who was special adviser to Clare Short, the former Secretary of State for International Development, said Britain was more likely to ignore human rights abuses by powerful allies than smaller nations. He said: "Keeping close to the US has muted UK Government criticism of US policy in Guantanamo Bay.

"UK support for the policies of President Bush has also damaged relations with some EU partners, many Arab and Islamic countries, and with parts of the developing world. This will potentially make it harder for the UK to gain support for human rights initiatives."

Before meeting the US President, Mr Blair will hold talks with Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, in New York tomorrow amid growing calls for the UN to play a greater role in Iraq. He is expected to urge such a course on President Bush, with whom he will discuss a new UN resolution on Iraq.

The two leaders will also discuss the Middle East peace process and the war on terrorism. But their meeting, which was planned before the turmoil in Iraq of the past two weeks, will be dominated by the immediate problems. They will declare their determination not to be blown off course.

Their other priority will be to produce a workable plan to meet the 30 June deadline to hand over power to the Iraqis. Yesterday Downing Street said the Prime Minister would stick to the deadline. His spokesman said: "People would be critical of us if we were not working towards a date. This is trying to help the Iraqi people take over and run their own affairs."

No 10 insisted there were "no disagreements" with the US about its tactics on the ground in Iraq, which have been criticised as heavy-handed.

Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South, warned that the Labour Party would want to "hide its head away" if Mr Blair were to receive his congressional medal. He said: "The debate about Iraq is not between Bush and the Democrats in the United States. Large chunks of the Republican Party are also concerned."

Peter Kilfoyle, the former defence minister, added: "We have to decide whether we should be a client state and increasingly rely on the US or be part of a Europe of nation states."

Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said that the 30 June deadline should not be "set in stone", saying it would be like "setting a target for those who wish to see Iraq descend into even more chaos".

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