Britain told to snap out of it and use assets: 'Special relationship' needs to be worked at, says US ambassador

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BRITAIN must live up to what remains of its 'special relationship' with the United States by displaying a strong measure of political confidence, the US ambassador to London, Raymond Seitz, warned yesterday.

While the 'ghost of isolationism still haunts the backwoods of American politics' and the disorder of the post-Cold War world made unifying concepts less obvious to identify, Mr Seitz said, the three traditional immutables of 'geography, language and attitude' were no longer enough to sustain the Anglo- American relationship of the last half-century. Both must work harder to identify common strategic interests. But the rapport also depended on the direction of Britain itself.

'There is, for example, the recurrently fashionable proposition of Britain as a victim,' Mr Seitz told the Royal Institute of International Affairs. 'Afflicted with an inoperable disease, the image goes, Britain checks into a political retirement home to see out its twilight years with gentility and grace and one last glass of port.' But while Britain grappled with its 'serious domestic troubles', it should preserve and promote its 'distinguishing assets'. He listed these as its:

vitality as a financial centre;

independent nuclear role;

professional military and polished diplomacy;

inventive talent;

vivid monarchy;

place in the Security Council and the Commonwealth.

While refraining from pointing out that most of these 'assets' were, in fact, under some threat or other, Mr Seitz did note that preserving them 'means the ability to generate resources and a strong measure of political confidence. Only Britons can deal with that, but to say that the relationship with the United States is headed towards atrophy is partly to suggest that Britain can't hold up its end of the bargain.'

Mr Seitz - who was speaking on the eve of a visit to Washington by Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary - also warned that a trade war between the US and Europe could be inevitable. 'The Uruguay Round might well fail,' he said in reference to the Gatt talks to liberalise world trade, now in their sixth year, 'in which case the two great transatlantic trading areas are likely to crouch down and snarl over the commercial bones.'

Mr Seitz said that to those living in America, 'the problem of protectionism does not seem to originate in the US'. Over the past year, the EC had come across as an 'unpredictable trading partner'.

'One of our unhappier conclusions is that it is only when you pick up a cudgel and bash it on the table that you get a response.' The problem was not merely failing to reach agreement with the EC; it was failing to be able to negotiate altogether because 'the other partner cannot reach a position'.

In Washington, Mr Hurd will hold his first full meeting with the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. In addition to events in Russia, the talks will cover the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, North Korea's nuclear challenge to the UN, Iraq, and the US-EC trade disputes.

(Photograph omitted)