BRITISH Prime Minister Gordon Brown's chief foreign policy adviser has sounded out the White House on a possible early withdrawal of troops from Iraq, a newspaper reported today.
The Sunday Times quoted an unnamed source as saying that Simon McDonald gave the impression that he was “doing the groundwork” for Brown, who meets US President George W. Bush for the first time as prime minister later today.
Mr McDonald, a senior diplomat who ran the Iraq desk at the Foreign Office in London, is said to have asked a “select group” of US foreign policy specialists earlier this month about the possible effects of a British pull-out.
In an article from London and Washington, the newspaper quoted one of those consulted as saying: “The general feeling was that he was doing the groundwork for a Brown conversation.
“The view is Britain feels it can't fight two wars, and Afghanistan is more worth fighting for,” the sourced said. Britain has 7000 soldiers in Afghanistan, serving as part of a NATO security and reconstruction force there.
Downing Street reportedly denied there had been a change in policy.
Mr Brown has strongly resisted calls for an immediate withdrawal of Britain's 5000-strong force, which is based around the southern port city of Basra, saying a pull out would only come when the security situation was right.
The Sunday Times also carried an interview with US army Colonel H.R. McMaster, one of the architects of Bush's controversial “surge” of 30,000 more troops to stem the bloody tide of sectarian violence in Iraq.
He was quoted as saying: “If we leave now, there would be chaos.”
Mr Brown said in a statement yesterday that Britain would remain the United States' strongest ally and the so-called “special relationship” could even become stronger in the future.
His insistence on strong ties comes amid speculation that he could try to distance himself from Mr Bush, because of lingering resentment at his predecessor Tony Blair's close alignment with Washington, particularly over Iraq.