Cameron in talks with Bush as Tories aim to restore historic ties

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The Independent Online

David Cameron held talks with George Bush at the White House last night in a move to rebuild the Tories' historic ties to the Republican Party.

Making the first visit to Washington by a Conservative leader for six years, he discussed the international situation with the President during a 30-minute meeting. The talks covered the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan, Iran, global warming and free trade. Aides said the two men also swapped light-hearted anecdotes about cycling.

The meeting was a coup for the Tory leader's team who are keen to boost the party's image across the Atlantic. They believe that Tony Blair's departure has given them a crucial opportunity to repair the damage caused by former Tory leader Michael Howard's criticism of the conduct of the Iraq war.

The White House encounter came on the second day of a trip to the US by Mr Cameron and William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary. They also held meetings at the State Department, the US Treasury and the World Bank and visited Arlington National Cemetery, where hundreds of thousands of US war veterans are buried.

In a speech to the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington, Mr Cameron said: "I and my colleagues represent a new generation of leadership in the Conservative Party. But the party I lead today in Opposition, and which I hope to lead in Government, is proudly Atlanticist, proud of the ties of history and family that bind our two nations."

The Tory leader also warned that the Balkans was on the brink of a crisis that could cause reverberations around the world and called for extra Nato troops to be drafted in to prevent trouble in the region. Mr Cameron's warning comes as tension rises over the status of Kosovo. Its ethnic Albanian leadership is moving towards a unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia next month in the face of mounting hostility in Belgrade.

The Tory leader said: "There could be a new crisis in the Balkans by Christmas. That is a direct threat to our national security and we must therefore take decisive action now to prevent it."

He warned that the situation had been deteriorating to the point where many feared the region was on the brink of its worst instability since the early 1990s.

Mr Cameron added: "A lawless space in the Balkans would be ideal ground for al-Qa'ida and others. So preserving and enhancing stability is not just a moral imperative it is fundamental to our national security."

The Tory leader also accused the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, of stoking up tensions in the region.