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Britons React to Bush-Blair Summit


Joining us now is Michael White, the political editor at Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Good morning.

Mr. MICHAEL WHITE (Guardian): Good morning.

INSKEEP: So do people in Britain feel that Tony Blair is having a serious influence on President Bush?

Mr. WHITE: Well, there's a huge amount of interest in this question of Africa and related to it in many ways and certainly related to the G8 summit in Gleneagles in Scotland; climate change, which worries Europeans a good deal more than it does your political establishment. Now there's a huge amount of interest in it, but equally, there's a huge amount of potential skepticism. Some people want to see Mr. Blair exercise influence over the White House and get them to mend their ways, as Europeans would see it, but many of them doubt that he'll be able to deliver more than a feel-good factor from the president.

INSKEEP: This was a very polite meeting by all accounts but not one where Mr. Blair appeared to have gotten what he wanted out of the president.

Mr. WHITE: He wants three things out of Gleneagles as much as he can get: debt relief, debt to the--I think it's the World Bank, isn't it?--is likely to be eased, and the US administration, with the help of the Congress, will make up some of the money the World Bank loses by way of lost interest rates. That bit's fine. But when it comes to doubling aid, then the US isn't biting on that. And, of course, trade--the US and the European Union are both pretty poor in their protectionist instincts towards the developing world. So, so far, it's sort of one out of three, one and a half out of three, if you want to be generous.

INSKEEP: Now Tony Blair is pushing climate change at the G8 summit, which is coming up. That's the meeting of eight major world leaders. We know where Tony Blair stands. We know where President Bush stands on global warming at the moment. Where do some of the other six stand?

Mr. WHITE: Well, Europeans tend to take a similar view on this. We all have different records. Historically, the Scandinavians have been much better than anyone else. The Germans are getting better. They've always had a romantic feeling for their forests, if you'll remember. The Brits went over to gas-fired power stations about 10, 15 years ago in a big way, gas from the North Sea, natural gas. And that's helped our C02 emissions considerably. In fact, we're ahead of schedule, which is unusual, but we're slipping back a bit at the moment, and Tony Blair has that decision to make, which he's hesitating far too long to make, is whether he re-embraces another generation of nuclear power stations. Well, you all know the pros and cons of that argument. And we're not bad, but we're not doing as well as we promised under Kyoto and other commitments.

INSKEEP: Well, does that mean that other leaders have an opportunity to criticize the United States but they're not doing much better themselves?

Mr. WHITE: They would argue that the US is, far and away, the biggest polluter. You know all that. But their real worry is the extent to which the political leadership and, to some extent, some scientific leaders in the US deny that manmade global warming is a problem, and I heard somebody on your equivalent program in London here this morning, talking out of Virginia, a very scientific man, who said the evidence is divided, whereas major scientific academicians from all the G8 countries, including the former Soviet Union and the US, have issued a statement ahead of the G8 telling political leadership there's no doubt there's a problem here and it's got to be tackled and tackled quickly.

INSKEEP: Michael White, how strong is Tony Blair's political position at home these days?

Mr. WHITE: It's weaker than it was before he went into the deserts of Iraq. As your listeners will know, he was re-elected with a parliamentary majority. This is a parliamentary system, so the president and the Congress aren't separate in the way that they are in the US, with a majority of 67 rather than a hundred and sixty. On the other hand, it's his third term, and most governments would consider that pretty good, and his critics in the Iraq War, which is a great dividing issue in Europe for the last three or four years, Chancellor Schroeder and President Chirac of France, dare I say it, are in much bigger trouble themselves. So it's also part of the cycle but certainly weaker and not likely to last more than a year or so now, I suspect.

INSKEEP: Michael White is political editor of Britain's Guardian newspaper. Thanks very much.

Mr. WHITE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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