At long last, PM gets some quality time with Obama

Gordon Brown finally won a formal one-to-one meeting with Barack Obama yesterday as the two leaders sought to squash media speculation that the Anglo-American relationship was special no more.

They joked that they were "seeing more of each other than our wives" during a 30-minute meeting in a side room at the G20 leaders' summit in Pittsburgh.

The Prime Minister could not conceal his irritation at the way the British press had reported that he had been "snubbed" after five requests for a formal session with the US President during Mr Brown's four-day visit to America were rebuffed. "I have been meeting the President all week and I am not going to get into this game," Mr Brown said. "I have met the President again today to talk about a number of big issues. We have talked about Iran, we have talked about Afghanistan for the third time this week and we have talked about the global economic crisis."

He pointedly told British journalists they should focus on such "big issues", saying their counterparts in other countries were doing so.

The White House was bemused by what the travelling British press dubbed the "Snubgate" affair. It seems that the Obama administration did not intend to cause any offence to Mr Brown, who appeared to become an accidental casualty of the new regime and culture at the White House. Washington's determination to reach out to all parts of the world has made it less acutely aware of what Mr Brown regards as the British media's "obsession" with the much-vaunted "special relationship".

Yesterday Mr Obama went out of his way to prove that Mr Brown remains a valued ally. He put his arm round the Prime Minister's shoulder as they left the stage after holding a joint press conference on Iran with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President.

Then the White House and Downing Street issued a joint statement emphasising the two leaders' agreement on Afghanistan, Iran and the economy.

British officials said that informal meetings were commonplace at international summits. But some observers have noted that Mr Brown appeared desperate to secure the traditional formal session normally given to a British Prime Minister on a US visit.

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