Gordon Brown is ready to override the misgivings of George Bush by going ahead with a major announcement on British troop withdrawals from Iraq. The US President will sit down to talks with Mr Brown today after their dinner at Downing Street last night sparked anti-Bush protests in Parliament Square.
Before he arrived at No 10, Mr Bush issued a veiled warning to Mr Brown that now was not the right time to be withdrawing forces from Iraq, saying such a decision depended on success of the allied mission. "I am confident that he, like me, will listen to our commanders to make sure that the sacrifices that have gone forward won't be unravelled by drawdowns that may not be warranted at this point in time," Mr Bush added.
But David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, signalled that Mr Brown would go ahead with plans to pull out British forces when the training of Iraqi forces was completed. Brushing aside tensions with the President, Mr Brown plans to make the announcement on the remaining 4,100 troops in Basra before the end of next month, when MPs begin their summer recess.
The Prime Minister had planned to reduce the British deployment to 3,500 but delayed the move following an upsurge in violence. More British troops are needed in Afghanistan and the Iraq withdrawal could help the overstretched military. It would also improve Mr Brown's relations with his own MPs, who are backing calls made at September's Labour Party conference for the immediate withdrawal of UK forces from Iraq.
Mr Miliband said Mr Bush "knows very well" that the US and Britain were adhering to the same rules and that troops would be withdrawn only when the job was done, regardless of a preferred timetable.
"We complete the job that we started," the Foreign Secretary said. "In the case of the 4,100 British forces, it is the training of the 14th Division of the Iraqi Army around Basra. We have to complete that mission. It is not about pre-ordained timetables – it is about conditions on the ground."
The public perception of Mr Bush, who leaves office in January, as already being "history" was heightened by the arrival of three historians at Downing Street for last night's dinner.
David Cannadine, Churchill's official biographer Martin Gilbert and Simon Schama, presenter of the popular television series A History Of Britain, were invited after Mr Bush expressed an interest in meeting some historians, a No 10 source said. Professor Schama is reported to have described Mr Bush's presidency as "an absolute fucking catastrophe".
The President and Mr Brown will hold a joint press conference today before flying to Northern Ireland. Mr Bush will meet his friend and former ally Tony Blair this morning, as well as the Conservative leader David Cameron.
Speaking of his relationship with Mr Blair, the President said it was "forged by fire". He added: "It is convenient for the Western press to use words like 'warmonger' or 'religious zealot' or 'poodle'. These are just words that people toss around foolishly. They retreat to the convenient rather than trying to probe the depths of a relationship or the depths of somebody's feelings on the basis of philosophy."
Mr Bush is nearing the end of a European tour with his wife, Laura, which many see as the outgoing President's "farewell". US special forces have reportedly been ordered to kill Osama bin Laden before Mr Bush leaves the White House in January. The President may also wish Mr Brown to keep British forces in Iraq so that America is not seen as isolated in the "war on terror".
However, in an interview with Sky News, Mr Bush said he regretted saying Bin Laden was "wanted dead or alive". Mr Bush added: "It was right after September ll. It was an unfortunate statement I made ... It makes it look like I want war. And I don't."
Mr Bush met the Queen for tea at Windsor Castle before travelling to Downing Street. The violinist Nigel Kennedy was among celebrities who said they would join anti-war protests in Parliament Square and spoil the leaders' dinner. However, police kept demonstrators well clear of No 10, blocking off the whole of Whitehall.
Tea with the Queen and beef with the Browns
*After Air Force One landed at Heathrow at 1.45pm, George Bush flew in his helicopter Marine One to Windsor Castle, where he spent 45 minutes with the Queen. She gave the President and Laura Bush a tour of her Berkshire palace's White Drawing Room. They were joined by the Duke of Edinburgh and America's ambassador to London, Robert Tuttle, and his wife Maria, for afternoon tea, sandwiches and cakes.
*The presidential fleet includes a back-up second jumbo jet, Air Force Two, a smaller 757 and four helicopters. Air space over Heathrow was cleared for more than an hour last week to allow a military cargo plane carrying Mr Bush's armoured cars to land at nearby RAF Northolt. The President is accompanied by American secret service personnel. The Metropolitan Police deployed 1,200 officers to deal with more than 1,000 protesters.
*Mr and Mrs Bush went on to Downing Street last night for an informal dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with the Browns and three historians – David Cannadine, Martin Gilbert and Simon Schama. The President will lunch today with the Knights and Ladies of the Garter in Windsor Castle's Waterloo chamber; Prince William will attend, wearing the order's ceremonial robes for the first time. Mr Bush will then fly to Belfast to join Gordon Brown for talks with the Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, and his deputy, Martin McGuinness.
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