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May 13, 2004

John Kerry in London (a fantasy)

London, May 17--Senator John Kerry returned to London this morning after two days at Chequers, the Prime Minister's private retreat. Standing with Mr. Blair outside 10 Downing Street, Senator Kerry said, "We have agreed on a range of very promising options for managing the crisis in Iraq."

The police closed Whitehall, a broad street near the Prime Minister's residence, to accommodate a crowd that was estimated at over 20,000. There were some hecklers, but Senator Kerry drew a roar of support when he waved through the iron gates.

The two leaders refused to elaborate on their plans, saying that the situation in Iraq was changing quickly. However, Senator Kerry's entourage included Peter W. Galbraith, a former US Ambassador to Croatia who advocates dividing Iraq into three semi-autonomous constituent republics. Mr. Galbraith refused to comment.

Mr. Blair, pressed to say whether he was endorsing the Democratic nominee, replied repeatedly that British governments "never pick sides" in U.S. Presidential campaigns. "The choice belongs to the American people, and our government will work effectively with either party," he said. "This was simply an opportunity for us to exchange ideas with another American political leader."

Nevertheless, British commentators unanimously detect political advantage for Mr. Blair. Polls last week showed only 19 percent of respondents were satisfied with the Labour government, and Mr. Blair's personal loyalty to U.S. President George W. Bush has been a major liability. While most foreign leaders would hesitate to cross the President, Mr. Blair has kept 12,000 troops in Iraq and is immune to punishment. Any criticism from Washington would be a political gift. The Sun, a conservative tabloid, declared: "Bush's 'Poodle' Bites."

For his part, Senator Kerry gains stature and offers a sense that the Iraq crisis may be solvable. Bush Administration officials scrambled to counter any advantage. Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said, "Senator Kerry is desperate to show that he is qualified to lead America. After more than 20 years of voting against a strong defense, he has to cross the ocean in search of supporters." On the Senate floor, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) challenged Senator Kerry to reveal his "secret plan" for Iraq. However, another Republican Senator who asked not to be named said, "This hurts, because Blair is not some foreigner meddling in American politics. He used to be George Bush's best friend."

Posted by peterlevine at May 13, 2004 10:44 AM

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