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U.S./U.K.: Bush, Blair Signal Debt Deal, Reaffirm Iraq Commitment

Bush and Blair (file photo) U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have signaled they are close to an agreement on relieving some of the massive debt carried by African states. But Blair was unable to secure U.S. support for his plan to heavily increase aid to impoverished Africa. The two leaders also remained divided on global warming. But they reaffirmed their commitment to supporting Iraq’s democracy-building process.

Washington, 8 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- President Bush and Prime Minister Blair told a joint news conference they were crafting a proposal for the elimination of 100 percent of the debt for developing African countries.

In their first meeting since Blair’s reelection to a third term, the two leaders expressed hope they could present a debt-relief plan to leaders at a summit of the world’s richest nations next month in Scotland.

Bush backed Blair's call for support of the World Bank and African Development Bank so they wouldn't be burdened with the losses from debt forgiveness. Blair, in turn, agreed with Bush’s concern that African states need to show they are worthy of a such a commitment.

“We have got the chance over the next period of time to make a definitive commitment, but it is a two-way commitment. We require the African leadership -- this is what the president [Bush] is saying -- we require the African leadership also to be prepared to make the commitment on governance, against corruption, in favor of democracy, in favor of the rule of law,” Blair said.

But Blair was unable to get Bush's support on his proposal to give Africa tens of billions of dollars a year in aid by making long-term commitments that would allow poor countries to raise money on global capital markets. Bush has said that such a mechanism would conflict with U.S. budget laws by binding future governments to provide money.

Bush and Blair face declining public approval ratings in connection with the ongoing difficulties in Iraq. But both said after their meeting yesterday they were committed to supporting the Iraqi effort to build a sustainable democracy.

Blair said it was a matter of international security as well as freedom for Iraqis.

“What’s at stake is the ability of Iraq finally to function as a democracy, run for the good of its people, and our help in assuring that Iraq can attain that goal is of vital importance, not just to our countries, but to the future of the world,” Blair said.

The United States and Britain led efforts at the United Nations to permit intrusive inspections of Iraqi weapons programs. They then mounted an invasion to oust Saddam Hussein after determining he had no intention of complying with the UN resolution.

Last month, a memo from 2002 emerged in which a top British intelligence official suggested to Blair that U.S. officials had distorted intelligence to justify a decision to go to war.

But both leaders yesterday rejected the significance of thememo, saying they had continued to seek a political solution to the Iraqi crisis through the end of 2002. Bush said military force was “our last option."

“Somebody said, ‘Well, we had made up our mind to use military force to deal with Saddam.’ There’s nothing farther from the truth. My conversations with the prime minister [were about] how we could do this peacefully. What could we do?” Bush said.

On the issue of climate change, Blair acknowledged differences between the two leaders but said there was a common commitment to tackling the issue.

Bush said he regarded climate change as a serious long-term issue and that Washington had devoted major resources to researching it.

“We lead the world when it comes to dollars spent, millions of dollars spent, on research about climate change. We want to know more about it. It’s easier to solve a problem when you know a lot about it,” Bush said.

Bush said the United States was placing its emphasis on research into new technologies and clean-energy sources. His administration rejects the Kyoto treaty, which sets controls for reducing greenhouse gases.