Obama lavishes praise on 'smart' 'effective' Cameron

12th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

President Barack Obama offered a lavish endorsement of David Cameron on Wednesday, as the new British prime minister got down to work on Britain's buckled public finances with his new coalition.

The London government meanwhile said the new Foreign Secretary William Hague would make an early trip to Washington on Friday to take up a relationship which was sometimes perceived as awkward under Gordon Brown's premiership.

Obama praised Cameron as he took up the reins of a coalition with Britain's Liberal Democrats, which some observers fear may not be sufficiently robust to make tough decision on the economic plight of Britain and Europe.

"I find him to be a smart, dedicated, effective leader and somebody who we are going to be able to work with very effectively," Obama said, when asked if the new British government would weaken its commitment to the Afghan war.

"He reaffirmed without me bringing it up, his commitment to our strategy in Afghanistan."

"And I am confident that the new government is going to recognize that it is in the interest of all the coalition partners to help President Karzai succeed," Obama said, as he stood alongside the Afghan leader.

Obama called Cameron on Tuesday moments after the walked into 10 Downing Street after succeeding Brown, following five days of uncertainty and political bargaining with the Liberal Democrats.

A Foreign Office spokesman said that Hague had been invited to Washington on Friday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Hague said on Tuesday the new British government wanted a "solid but not slavish relationship" with the United States, stressing the importance of the relationship between the two countries.

"No doubt we will not agree on everything," he said. "But they remain, in intelligence matters, in nuclear matters, in international diplomacy, in what we are doing in Afghanistan, the indispensable partner of this country."

In comments that will be warmly welcomed in London, Obama praised the "extraordinary, special relationship between the United States and Great Britain; one that outlasts any individual party, any individual leader."

"It is built up over centuries, and it's not going to go away."

There have been repeated questions in London and Washington whether Obama is as committed to the relationship with Britain as previous presidents, as he seeks to forge future ties between the United States in the developing world.

While Obama and Brown forged respect while battling the deepest economic crisis in decades, they seemed an odd political couple.

Some observers say Obama treated Brown brusquely at first, and insulted some Britons when he removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office.

Brown, a formal Scot, seemed from a different political generation than the flashy Obama.

"Cameron is a very smooth, polished character," said Reginald Dale of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"He has more of the social graces than Gordon Brown, who was an angular, crusty character, who was always seething underneath."

The White House repeatedly denied it snubbed Brown, and despaired of tales of Anglo-US tension whipped up by the British press.

But early on, the Obama White House did seem loath to pay rhetorical homage to the "special relationship."

Obama, who last year dubbed himself the first "Pacific president," seems to lack his predecessors' cultural or emotional empathy toward Europe.

But given the power of the European economy, even in its current indebted state, the last thing he needs is another weak European government wary of tough decisions on slashing deficits and cutting budgets.

As Obama's comments showed, Britain is most valued here for signing up to US military adventures overseas, like Afghanistan.

But with the British military braced for massive budget cuts, some in Washington wonder how long London will pack a significant punch overseas.

Cameron may also face US pressure on Europe: traditionally the White House likes to see Britain engaged on the continent.

Cameron's Conservatives, however, are riven with splits over Europe, and their Euro-skepticism may limit their clout on the continent.

Many of the Liberal Democrats are hugely pro-Europe, and the coalition deal appears to have formalized a split in the heart of the new British government.

© 2010 AFP

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