Blair, U.S. President George W. Bush's closest international ally, made his unusually frank remarks in a speech last night to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Blair's audience consisted of more than 20 heads of state or government, plus some 70 cabinet ministers and myriad business leaders. In his comments, he called on the United States to engage the rest of the world in setting its priorities.
"If America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda, too. And it can do so secure in the knowledge that what people want is not for America to concede, but for America to engage," Blair said.
Blair said there is no longer any doubt that the world is interdependent, and that the United States is aware that it cannot singlehandedly defeat global threats like terrorism by military force alone. He said cooperation is also necessary to counter other challenges, such as climate change.
Analysts detect an element of domestic politicking in Blair's approach. Mark Joyce, of the Royal United Services Institute in London, said Blair's standing among his electorate has been damaged by his active participation in the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
"There is a general election [in Britain] not too far over the horizon -- it is probably going to be in May -- so [Blair] is clearly very conscious of that. And I don't think it's any great secret that [the prime minister's office at] 10 Downing Street has been trying to distance itself from the Bush administration over the last few months, without actually disagreeing on any concrete issues," Joyce said.
Bush is scheduled to visit Europe next month on a trip designed to mend fences after the serious rift over Iraq. Joyce said it's a positive sign. "It's certainly going to take more than one visit to sort the situation out, but the fact that the [Bush] visit is taking place at all is a positive sign," he said. "There have been considerable improvements, at least in the tone of the trans-Atlantic bilateral dialogue in the last few months."
Joyce points to conciliatory remarks by new U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said during her confirmation hearings in Washington last week that the United States needs to have "more of a dialogue than a monologue" with its allies.
And in his inauguration speech last week, Bush stressed his desire to cooperate with America's allies. "All the allies of the United States can know: we honor your friendship, we rely on your counsel, and we depend on your help," he said. "Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom's enemies. The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies' defeat."
In separate remarks appearing in the British daily "The Guardian," Blair expressed confidence that Bush's second term will see "an international agenda that is more consensual, more multilateral than what has gone before."
(compiled from wire reports)