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Obama To Meet With British Prime Minister Brown

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The president is meeting this week with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has arrived in Washington for talks. He will be addressing Congress tomorrow. Now before he left Britain, Mr. Brown said that he wanted a global New Deal for the world economy - which sounds impressive, but what's it mean? Let's try to find out from NPR's Rob Gifford, who's in London. Rob, what do you think?

ROB GIFFORD: Well, good question, Steve. I think a lot of people here are trying to work out the details of that, and that's really the big question as Mr. Brown goes into talks with President Obama. He has been talking about some of these very grandiose schemes, you know, echoing FDR's New Deal of the 1930s and the global depression then.

We know that he wants to look very closely at all sorts of financial issues like the regulation of banks and the more detailed international regulation of banks, which has been one of the problems over the last few months. He wants more of a role for the International Monetary Fund to help poor countries who are hit by this economic downturn. But really, I think one of the key issues today is to try and put some of the meat, if you like, onto those bones and onto the rhetoric, which has been quite high and mighty, if you like. But we haven't really seen the details yet.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask you one question about that, Rob Gifford. This is a guy who is an economic expert who was Britain's equivalent of a finance minister before he became prime minister. But, of course, Britain has had its own economic troubles. Is he seen as somebody with the moral authority to lead the world to some better place in the economy?

GIFFORD: Well, in Britain, that depends which side of the political divide you're on. Of course, the opposition, the conservative party is saying he was one of the reasons we got into this mess in the first place because of his deregulation during the '90s during the Blair years, and allowing the boom to go on too long and too far.

But I think even his detractors say that he knows something about the economy. He's got a PhD. He's ferociously intelligent. And at the end of last year, it was he who was the first global leader to really say we need to step in with a government bailout. We need to come in and backup the banks, which is indeed what the United States then followed up and did.

So I think he knows what he's talking about. And as I say, it will be just about getting some of those details for the little guy, the guy on the ground who can't pay his mortgage. That's the thing that people are looking for now, not the highfalutin language which makes him look good on the world stage.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Rob Gifford in London on this day when Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in the United States. What does this visit tell us about U.S.-U.K. relations, Rob?

GIFFORD: Well, I think Downing Street, the prime minister's office in Britain, has been quietly happy that Gordon Brown is the first European leader to go to the Oval Office to meet President Obama. Of course, that is an honor. And I suppose that does echo the special relationship, as it's seen here, at least, that the U.S. and the U.K. have.

But interestingly, Gordon Brown, before he left last night, said in the past, British prime ministers have gone to the United States to talk about war. I'm going to talk about stability and about the future. So he would seem to be drawing a line very much under the Bush-Blair era and to be portraying himself as something of a progressive in the mold of President Obama. And, of course, he needs that for his domestic audience as well, because he's very low in the polls and he needs a boost before the general election, which is likely next year.

INSKEEP: Although, of course, they will necessarily have to discuss a war, since British troops, several thousand of them are in Afghanistan where President Obama is increasing the effort, even as he tries to withdraw from Iraq.

GIFFORD: Absolutely. And that will be one of the main international topics. And I think Gordon Brown will want to keep the focus on the economic issues, really, because he is adding some new troops, nothing like the American contingent of 17,000. But Britain has the second-highest number of troops already in Afghanistan. And Britain is committed throughout the British military and throughout the politic establishment, they are committed to Afghanistan.

But I don't think he will be committing many more troops. The main issue is whether he can persuade other NATO allies to commit more troops themselves -Germany, France, and other European countries.

INSKEEP: Rob, always good to talk with you.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, indeed, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rob Gifford in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Rob Gifford
Rob Gifford is the NPR foreign correspondent based in Shanghai.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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