One by one, the three candidates discussed the Iraq war, climate change and U.S.-Britain relations with Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Thursday — and got to appear presidential alongside a foreign leader.
But if Brown prefers one candidate over another to become his ally by succeeding President Bush, he wouldn't say. He sidestepped when asked at a White House news conference if he felt a special kinship with any one of the three competing senators.
"It is for Americans to decide who their president is going to be," Brown said, as he stood with Bush in the Rose Garden and declared himself delighted to have met with all three remaining hopefuls. "What I was convinced of after talking to each of them and talking about the issues that concern them and concern the world, is that the relationship between America and Britain will remain strong, remain steadfast, and will be one that will be able to rise to the challenges of the future."
Bush, who has endorsed McCain, joked: "One of those three has a good chance of winning!"
Earlier in the day, John McCain, the GOP nominee-in-waiting, and Clinton and Obama, Democrats competing for their party nod, came off the campaign trail to talk with Brown in a series of 45-minute sessions at the British ambassador's residence in Washington. The three had been briefed by their respective foreign policy aides, but no staffers were present during the sessions.
Up for discussion were the Iraq war, climate change, the global economy and U.S.-Britain relations. Brown also talked about Afghanistan and China with Clinton and Africa with Obama. He and McCain discussed the Arizona senator's call for creating a League of Democracies and Brown's proposal for the World Bank to take on an environmental mission.
It was Obama's first meeting with Brown. McCain met Brown last month during a visit to London, while Clinton and Brown have known each other since her years as first lady.
"Britain and America can work well, do work well and will continue in my view to work very well in the future," Brown said after the meetings.
Brown succeeded Tony Blair last June and is on his second visit to the United States as prime minister.
"We think it's probably a wise move by the prime minister to get to know one of the individuals who will be elected president a year from now," presidential spokesman Tony Fratto said, acknowledging the next chapter in U.S.-British relations. "It makes sense."
With new leadership already in Britain and upcoming in the United States, relations between the two countries are poised for change.
Bush and Blair had an extraordinarily steadfast bond, strengthened in part by their unwavering support for the Iraq war. However, Bush is highly unpopular in Britain and Blair's political fortunes soured because of the friendship.
In contrast to his predecessor, Brown has taken a more cautious approach with Bush and the relationship grew tense when Britain decided to draw down its troops in Iraq. He has said a plan to reduce British troop numbers from about 4,000 to 2,500 would remain on hold; it was delayed after a recent spike in violence in the southern port city of Basra.
Of the presidential candidates, McCain is a staunch backer of a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq, while Clinton and Obama have called for withdrawing troops.