PREVIEW: Cameron visits Washington for talks on global trouble spots
By Anna Tomforde Mar 12, 2012, 10:18 GMT
London/Washington - A White House visit by British Prime Minister David Cameron presents welcome relief after a week that saw six British soldiers killed by a Taliban bomb in Afghanistan - Britain's worst-ever loss of life from a Taliban attack.
Cameron faced criticism over the botched attempt to free two European hostages from Islamist kidnappers in Nigeria. Meanwhile, he is battling coalition friction over the course to economic recovery and fundamental reform of the health service.
The news from the US that President Barack Obama is planning to take Cameron to a college basketball game in Dayton, Ohio, has, therefore, been greeted as a welcome distraction.
'The trip to the NCAA tournament game is intended to underscore the special relationship between the two key allies and will precede a state dinner on Wednesday,' the Washington Post wrote.
Recent allied setbacks in the war in Afghanistan - including Sunday's massacre of civilians by an alleged rogue US soldier in Kandahar province - are said by British officials to be on the substantive agenda of the Anglo-US summit, along with the global economy and Syria's brutal crackdown on regime opponents.
Cameron and his wife, Samantha, are due Tuesday in Washington to start a two-day official visit that is likely to mix political talks with a reaffirmation of strong personal ties between the 'leaders and their families,' according to a White House statement.
The visit, which includes a state dinner Wednesday at the White House, 'will highlight the fundamental importance of the US-UK special relationship ... as well as the strong personal bond that has developed between the two leaders and their families,' the White House said.
Obama and Cameron were expected to discuss the NATO and G-8 summits, scheduled for May in the United States, along with the Middle East, Iran and the global economy, the Post reported.
Cameron has repeatedly expressed 'frustration' over Syria's brutal repression of opposition forces and civilians in Syria, but ruled out a Libya-style, NATO-led intervention in the conflict.
In Britain, the latest Taliban attack, which targeted a Warrior armoured patrol vehicle on the border between Helmand province and Kandahar, has reignited the debate about withdrawal timetables and the purpose and justification of having troops in Afghanistan.
Barry Sheerman, a member of parliament for the opposition Labour Party, said that though he did not advocate a 'cut and run' policy in Afghanistan, the time for 'a serious debate and mature reflection' had now come.
Successive British governments have struggled to convince voters of the continued need to keep troops in Afghanistan - and Cameron's Conservative-Liberal coalition is no exception.
The latest attack, which took the British death toll in Afghanistan to 404, came after a lull in casualties following the deployment of 20,000 US Marines to Helmand province under the US troop surge.
But with many of the Marines expected to head home by September, and British combat troops scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the fear is that Britain could be left in the 'unenviable position of once again having to take the lead in Helmand,' the Times newspaper wrote.
Meanwhile, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, in its latest military balance survey, said that 'political and financial difficulties in NATO states may increase pressure to accelerate the withdrawals.'