Obama hails the bond with Britain that can't be broken

Leaders agree need for action to regulate banks and kick-start global economy
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The Independent US

Barack Obama declared last night that Britain and America had a "bond that cannot be broken" and would move even closer together, as he and Gordon Brown spoke of the need to kick-start the world economy.

Following talks in the White House, the President gave his backing for an overhaul of the banking system and for a co-ordinated effort by the world's leading economies to spend their way out of recession.

The body language between the two leaders in their joint appearance in the Oval Office was respectful but not warm.

Although Mr Brown won the race to be the first European leader to be invited to the White House, the Prime Minister was not permitted a large press conference. The two-hour slot he was offered contrasts with the red-carpet treatment that Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher enjoyed.

Yet Downing Street will be relieved to have won an endorsement for its fiscal stimulus plans and hopes it will pave the way to an agreement by the leaders of the G20 group of major industrialised nations.

Mr Obama dismissed suggestions that he was less committed than his predecessors to the much-vaunted "special relationship". "Great Britain is one of our closest and strongest allies and there is a link and bond there that will not break," he said. "That is true on the economic front but also on issues of common security."

The President pointed to the two countries' common language and culture as well as similar systems of law and government. "Rest assured," he added, "the relationship isn't only special and strong, but will only get stronger as time goes on".

The meeting, followed by a working lunch, mainly focused on combating the global economic crisis. The Prime Minister repeated his call for a "global new deal" with the biggest economies agreeing new controls on banks and tax havens, as well as fiscal stimulus packages. Mr Obama agreed that "co-ordinated action" was required to stimulate the world's economies, but warned against hopes of an early end to the global downturn.

Later, Sarah Brown met Michelle Obama for the first time, in the East Wing of the White House – the family part of the building – with the First Lady showing the Prime Minister's wife around her new home.

The President had encouraging words for Mr Brown, who he was meeting for the third time. "I would like to think our relationship is good. I'm sure he wouldn't dispute that in front of me," he joked.

"The Prime Minister has taken the helm of the British economy at a very difficult time. I have just come in, but I think there are a set of shared values and shared assumptions between us."

Mr Obama added: "He also has a wonderful family, as I do. We can talk about our spectacular wives and our wonderful children."

The President struck an upbeat note, predicting that joint action on the economy would get the world back on the path to prosperity.

"We together have dug a very deep hole for ourselves. There were a lot of bad decisions that were made. We are cleaning up that mess. There are going to be fits and starts in getting the mess cleaned up but it is going to get cleaned up and we will emerge more prosperous, more unified and more protected from systemic risks."

Mr Obama and Mr Brown listened intently to one another as they sat in blue-and-yellow antique armchairs before a painting of George Washington.

Downing Street had originally hoped for the men to appear shoulder to shoulder in the White House Rose Garden. But heavy snowfall put paid to the plan and the White House decided to have no replacement.

The announcement that a mere glorified photo-opportunity would instead be staged led to frenzied contact between the two governments. The White House finally decided on a 20-minute "intimate press conference" in the Oval Office before about 40 journalists.

Brown's changing tune

"This problem started in America. They have got to sort it out. The Americans have a responsibility to the rest of the world."

On Sky News, October 2008

"Things have happened in every part of the world. We have got an international financial system that we have now got to show can be brought to work in the public interest. Every country is learning and every country is taking action."

At the White House, yesterday

Brown's day

6.45am Breakfast at UK Residency in Washington

7.10am Interview on US Public Radio

7.30-9am Free time

9-9.30am Meets Rabbi Scheier, Appeal of Conscience Foundation

9.30-11am Meets British officials; prepares for meeting with Mr Obama

11.10am Arrives at the White House

Noon Joint press conference

12.20pm Working lunch

1.20pm Leaves White House

1.30-4pm Other meetings; work on speech to Congress

4pm Meets group of US journalists

4.15pm Interview with ABC Television

6pm Interviews with UK broadcasters

7pm Gordon and Sarah Brown meet Vice-President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, for drinks

Evening Contacts with London; finishing touches to Congress speech

Obama's day

9am Advisers give Mr Obama and his Vice-President Joe Biden, their his daily briefing

9.45am Mr Obama heads to the Department of Transportation, where he announces a road-building initiative but predicts further economic gloom

11.30am Arrives back at the White House for his meeting with Gordon Brown

Noon Joint press conference

12.20pm Working lunch with the Prime Minister

3pm Meets a delegation from the Boy Scouts of America in the Oval Office – an annual tradition

4.30pm Joined by Joe Biden for a meeting with the Defence Secretary Robert Gates