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Bush and Blair Trade Praise at White House Love Fest

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November 8, 2001

Bush and Blair Trade Praise at White House Love Fest

By ELISABETH BUMILLER

ASHINGTON, Nov. 7 -- No one ever said they would be soulmates, and they aren't. But today President Bush and Prime

Minister Tony Blair of Britain stood side by side at the White House as unwavering allies joined by war, national self-interest and

what their aides say is a growing personal chemistry.

Although Mr. Blair is not nearly as close to Mr. Bush as he was to Bill Clinton, he has told his advisers -- just as Mr. Clinton has told

friends -- that they are wrong to underestimate the president.

"We've got no better friend in the world than Great Britain," Mr. Bush said this evening in a chummy news conference with Mr. Blair that

offered no new revelations in the fight against terrorism but projected a powerful image of a united America and Britain. "I've got no better

person I would like to talk to about our mutual concerns than Tony Blair."

Mr. Blair quickly returned the compliment, thanking Mr. Bush "once again for his leadership and his strength at this time."

The two stood behind identical lecterns, their hands clasped similarly in front of them, smiling or nodding agreeably at the other's words. At

one point Mr. Blair stepped in to finish a sentence of banter for Mr. Bush, who had told reporters that they were limited to asking one

question of either leader.

When a correspondent asked the president if the limit was an executive order -- a reference to an order last week restricting the release of

presidential papers -- Mr. Bush began laughing as Mr. Blair cheerily chimed in: "it looks like it."

The prime minister had no discernible reaction when Mr. Bush suddenly said that the war in Afghanistan was "not one of these Kodak

moments."

Mr. Blair, who has met with 54 world leaders since Sept. 11 and has been operating as a kind of supra- American secretary of state,

arrived in Washington this afternoon for barely six hours of talks and dinner with Mr. Bush.

He briefed the president on his meetings with leaders in the Middle East and Europe. The two also discussed military strategy in Afghanistan,

relief aid and postwar reconstruction, Mr. Blair said.

"It would surprise some that Mr. Blair could have as good a relationship with the new president as he had with Bill Clinton," said Peter

Mandelson, a former member of the British cabinet who was Mr. Blair's closest confidant during the Clinton administration. "But it seems as

if the surprising is happening."

Advisers say that while Mr. Bush finds some European leaders, like President Jacques Chirac of France, formal and pompous, he is

comfortable around Mr. Blair, who has been careful, his advisers say, to be low- key and casual around an American president who is still

on a learning curve on foreign policy.

Mr. Blair has in turn described Mr. Bush as a well-briefed, gracious and receptive listener, who this week heeded Mr. Blair's advice to

expand the military coalition of European nations fighting the Taliban.

When Mr. Blair was asked at the news conference about whether the current air campaign was sufficient to win the war in Afghanistan, he

said, "I think people know that the strategy has to encompass more than airstrikes alone." He said that the conflict was young and would be

waged on many levels.

He also addressed efforts at peace in the Middle East, saying at the news conference today that "even though it is not conditional in any

sense, of course we want to see progress in the Middle East."

World leader to world leader, Mr. Blair has the ability to deliver unvarnished news to Mr. Bush, as in his reports to the president on his

meetings in the Middle East and Europe.

"That report and that delivery is something that Bush couldn't get from a thousand intelligence reports or a lot of face time with his secretary

of state,"

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