British P.M. to meet presidential candidates

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown's meetings with three presidential candidates could point the way to a substantial shift in U.S. policy in Iraq.Stephen Chernin / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Wednesday it's feasible to reduce the number of allied troops in Iraq, a view he's expected to share when he sees the three presidential candidates, at least two of whom are inclined to agree.

The meetings Thursday with Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton could point the way to a substantial shift in U.S. policy should either win the presidency. Brown also meets with John McCain, the certain Republican nominee, who is more inclined to stay the course in Iraq.

While careful not to meddle in U.S. politics, the prime minister point to the British troop drawdown in the south as an example of what can be done — provided Iraqis can fill the gap, there is a measure of economic and political stability and Iraqi forces are prepared to step in.

Results of the three consecutive meetings at the residence of Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald are likely to emerge at a joint news conference with President Bush after Brown calls on him at the White House.

Brown intends to reduce British troop numbers from about 4,000 to 2,500, but that depends on whether Iraqi security forces make headway in driving out militias in the oil-rich southern city of Basra, where British troops have done the heavy lifting from the start.

"We've been able to move to a situation where we are training the forces — not actually involved in the combat itself," Brown said Wednesday. "We're in a position where we have been able to draw down. So we've been able to prove that you can actually reduce the numbers."

Bush, by contrast, intends to withdraw only troops he ordered sent to Iraq last year to supplement those already there.

Tony Blair, who preceded Brown as prime minister, was so close to Bush that he was scorned in some British circles as the U.S. president's lapdog. Bush met with him more times than with any other foreign leader.

Brown, who appears to be more independent, is making clear that doesn't mean a weaker trans-Atlantic relationship. "I'm very pro-American and I've always been so," Brown said in a CBS interview Tuesday. "I feel that America and Britain can achieve so much in the next few years."