Prime Minster David Cameron served notice to President Barack Obama in closed-door talks in the Oval Office yesterday that he will order a fresh review of the UK-US extradition treaty to establish whether it is fair to Britons who face being sent to the United States for trial.
The inflammatory issue of extradition was raised on a day that otherwise featured pomp and circumstance at the White House for Mr Cameron and his wife, Samantha, as well as more anticipated discussion of topics ranging from the rolling crises in Afghanistan, the repression in Syria and the nuclear stand-off with Iran.
"I raised this issue with President Obama today and we had a good discussion. We will be following this up with further talks between our teams," the Prime Minister said of the extradition issue. Sources suggested Mr Obama did not raise objections to the proposed review. Controversy over the existing treaty has flared in the wake of the extradition to the US last month of businessman and British citizen Christopher Tappin, 65, who is now in custody in the US pending trial for allegedly selling batteries for Iranian missiles, a charge he denies.
There is similar disquiet over the case of Gary McKinnon, the Asperger's sufferer who is still facing extradition to the US for allegedly hacking into US military computer systems. He said he wormed into US computers looking for evidence of UFOs.
Sources said last night that the Government will be looking specifically at possible changes under which the US could acquiesce to suspects in similar cases being tried on British soil instead of in the US.
"We have carried out an independent review of the treaty which found that it was balanced," Mr Cameron said. "But I recognise there are concerns about how it's implemented in practice."
At a joint press conference in the Rose Garden, both leaders pushed back against speculation that recent atrocities in Afghanistan, including the alleged shooting by a US serviceman of 16 civilians, would mean an acceleration of Nato's disengagement from the country. But they were barely abreast of unfolding news of a failed attack at Camp Bastion adjacent to a runway moments after the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had landed there. Mr Cameron referenced the Camp Bastion attack, saying that the UK would take whatever new steps might be necessary to ensure security for all personnel.
"We're going to complete this mission, and we're going to do it responsibly," Mr Obama said of the timetable for withdrawal agreed in Lisbon 15 months ago. In spite of everything, the US still doesn't anticipate making "sudden, immediate changes to the plan that we currently have", he said.
The three-day formal visit by Mr Cameron continues this morning with a visit to Ground Zero in New York. Last night, the Prime Minister and his wife, who during the day wore designs by Victoria Beckham, were guests at a lavish state dinner under canvas on the White House grounds of a scale normally reserved for heads of state.
Both men emphasised the need for "transition" in Syria to avoid outright civil war, with the departure of President Bashar al-Assad as a crucial first step. "The first way to end the killing is for Assad to go," Mr Cameron said, adding that Britain and the US were looking at ways to ensure a "robust" delivery of humanitarian aid to the country. But officials later said they did not foresee using military aircraft to deliver that aid.
Pressed to say what possible military steps were under consideration, both men declined. Mr Obama conceded that "our natural instinct is to act" but then contrasted Libya, where intervention was ordered, with Syria, inferring that it was more complicated.