Blair meets Bush for final time as British PM

/ Source: The Associated Press

British Prime Minister Tony Blair paid a farewell visit Wednesday to President Bush, an opportunity for close allies to showcase their unity on the war in Iraq and hammer out differences on climate change and trade.

Blair arrived at the White House before a private dinner with Bush. The president and his wife, Laura, greeted Blair briefly in front of cameras, but the leaders were not expected to make public comments. After spending the night at the White House, Blair will discuss issues with Bush on Thursday, and they will hold a joint news conference.

Differences on climate change and trade policy are subjects of intensive negotiation between European countries and the U.S. and will be among issues at a meeting of the Group of Eight major industrialized countries in Germany next month.

The trip is also part of Blair's carefully choreographed farewell after announcing last week that he will step down as prime minister on June 27. The move ends a decade-long premiership that has, in part, been defined by his close relationship with Bush and the United States.

His departure creates some uncertainty in relations between London and Washington. Blair's likely successor, Gordon Brown, has not made many foreign policy positions clear and is not expected to cultivate a friendship with Bush in the way that Blair has.

Blair's resignation will also remove Bush's most reliable international partner at a time that the White House is cultivating other ties in Europe, particularly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Though Blair continues to praise his relationship with Bush, the friendship has played a big part in his downfall.

In an interview with NBC News on Tuesday, Blair said he got used to a "very intense" level of criticism over Britain's participation in the Iraq war, and he praised Bush's leadership.

"I have found him immensely straightforward to deal with, someone who is always true to his word, and someone who is a very strong leader," Blair said.