William Hague, the man most likely to be Britain's next foreign secretary, yesterday assured Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top US policymakers that a Conservative government would be "active and activist" in European affairs, despite its scepticism about EU institutions.
Speaking to reporters after an "excellent" 45-minute meeting at the State Department, Mr Hague said he stressed to Mrs Clinton that the Tories' new partners in the European parliament, including Polish and Latvian parties, were not anti-Semitic, but "mainstream parties of the centre right".
That last issue had gone unmentioned until it was raised by the shadow Foreign Secretary himself – part of his response to fears raised in some quarters of Washington that a Tory government might veer towards the far right on European policy, and seek to obstruct EU business, especially if the Lisbon Treaty had not been ratified by the time it came to office. The US administration and the Conservatives are in broad agreement on the main topics of Mr Hague's official agenda here: Afghanistan, Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the fading chances of a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Nor, after the fracas over the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbasset Ali al-Megrahi, will there be many tears shed in the US if Labour and Gordon Brown go down to defeat at the general election.
But a future Tory government's broader ties with the European Union are another matter, especially if a victorious David Cameron keeps his promise of holding a referendum on an unratified treaty, and undoing previous transfers of power from London to Brussels.
"There could be storm clouds on the horizon," warns Nile Gardiner, specialist on Anglo-American relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "Significant long-term potential exists for a clash between a Cameron government and the Obama administration over Europe."
Whereas Mr Hague insisted that the transatlantic partnership must be heart and centre of UK foreign policy, the Obama White House is, in words at least, forthrightly committed to a vigorous and cohesive Europe.
Most recent administrations have proclaimed that a strong Britain best serves its interests by playing a central role in Europe. But as China and India and other emerging powers lay greater claim on Washington's attention, the Obama team seems to mean it. Mr Obama himself moreover seems less concerned than his predecessors with the "special relationship" that so preoccupies sections of Britain's establishment and media.
The Tories have been working to restore their standing in Washington since relations hit a nadir in late 2004 in a dispute over the Iraq war which led to Michael Howard – Mr Cameron's predecessor as leader – being told by Mr Bush's aides to forget about any visit to the White House.Reuse content