World News Blog – Hague in Washington shows how much has stayed the same

First stop Washington – it makes sense for a new foreign secretary who takes the traditional view that Britain’s relations with America trump all others.

William Hague has said that the relationship should be “solid, not slavish” – a nod to the public discomfort in the UK over Tony Blair’s perceived poodle-ism towards George Bush – but he’s a staunch Atlanticist nonetheless.

It’s a ritual that every incoming British government should avow that the UK has a “special relationship” with the USA. Hence the use of the phrase “extraordinary special relationship” by President Obama in his congratulatory message to David Cameron.

The supplicant wants to be seen as “special”; the senior partner uses the word to please and flatter, not because it has meaning. British diplomats in Washington find it all a bit embarrassing, while US officials find it baffling. They know that for the US administration, relationships with China – the coming superpower – with neighbouring Canada and Mexico, and with the larger European powers Germany and France are more important.

Still, Britain’s loyalty does make it a pretty easy relationship on the whole. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously described Mr Hague’s predecessor David Miliband as “vibrant”, “vital” and “attractive”, so the new foreign secretary will want to cut a similar dash when he meets her in the State Department today.

He’ll also have to reassure her that the Tory party’s alignment with right wing parties in the European parliament will not affect the new British government’s partnerships with the major centre-right governments of President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel.

That might be easier, now Tory Euro-scepticism has been tempered by Lib Dem Euro-enthusiasm. Mrs Clinton is reportedly interested to learn how this coalition will work (aren’t we all?).

And the matters of substance? Afghanistan, sanctions on Iran, the Middle East – the Conservatives have set out a similar policy to the previous government, and it’s coordinated with the Americans.

There may be some friction over the case of Gary McKinnon, the British computer hacker due to be extradited to the USA.

The Americans don’t find the British special enough to take their side on the Falklands/Malvinas – rather, they see themselves as honest brokers between the UK and Argentina.

Mr Hague’s first foreign trip is likely to show not how much has changed in Britain, but how much has stayed the same.

 

There may be some friction over the case of Gary McKinnon, the British computer hacker due to be extradited to the USA.

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