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Iran, Afghanistan top agenda for Cameron in US

15 march 2012, 12:10
President Barack Obama (L) talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron (R). ©AFP
President Barack Obama (L) talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron (R). ©AFP
President Barack Obama welcomes British Prime Minister David Cameron to the White House on Wednesday for a visit that will blend crisis talk on Iran and Afghanistan with a spectacular state dinner, AFP reports.

Obama will repay the warm welcome he received at a state visit hosted by Queen Elizabeth II last year, and highlight a bond US officials say he shares with Cameron as well as a "special relationship" between their nations.

Cameron had barely landed on US soil when he was whisked off to the crucial swing state of Ohio, to watch a mediocre basketball game with a thrilling climax which tipped off the annual March Madness college tournament.

He also became the first world leader hosted by Obama on his iconic Air Force One jet, in a piece of statecraft which contrasted with the rocky start to US-Britain relations under Obama and former British leader Gordon Brown.

On Wednesday, Obama and Cameron will swap the spirit of a chummy hot dog outing without their wives, for talks on deadly serious challenges unfolding in Iran, Afghanistan and Syria.

They are also expected to hold a press conference.

Cameron arrived in Washington two days after a rampage by a lone US soldier in Afghanistan which killed 16 civilians and caused outrage in the war-wracked state and triggered new questions about Washington's war policy.

There were reports on Tuesday in both the US and British media that Cameron and Obama would look for ways to speed up the transfer of security and lead fighting role to Afghan forces next year before a full withdrawal in 2014.

The New York Times reported that Obama, already committed to pull out 33,000 surge troops by this year was keen to bring home another 20,000 troops by 2013, amid increasing public fatigue after more than a decade of war.

The White House however denied that any specific options pegged to troop numbers were under discussion and said withdrawal timetables would be dictated by the success of Obama's Afghan strategy, not domestic politics.

The benchmark aims of the US mission call for an effort to defeat, disarm and dismantle Al-Qaeda and offer Afghans the expertise to take care of their own security needs when NATO-led forces finally leave.

Cameron came to Washington keen to help Obama's bid to cool "loose talk" over war with Iran amid speculation that Israel could soon launch military action against Iran's nuclear program.

Washington does not believe the time is ripe for such an attack, though the president has stressed Israel's right to defend itself and warned that it could take military action to forestall an Iranian bomb at a later date.

Obama and Cameron will also discuss their failure to stop the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's apparent slaughter of his own people, though will have few illusions about the chances of a new UN Security Council resolution.

The British premier was accompanied by his wife Samantha, on her first official trip abroad with her husband, and brought a high-powered delegation including Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) George Osborne.

Obama said he took his guest to the basketball clash between the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers and Mississippi Valley State's Delta Devils, because most foreign leaders never get to see the US heartland.

Cameron said at halftime in Dayton, Ohio, that the speed of the game reminded him of soccer but he was puzzled by frequent infringements that led to free throws.

"It's hard to follow sometimes exactly who has done what wrong," he admitted in a joint interview with Obama on the Tru network.

After a low scoring and scrappy first half, the game heated up to a frenzied finish and justified the tournament's billing as March Madness, with Western Kentucky pulling off a 59-58 victory.

Some commentators wryly commented that Obama's trip will likely get him front-page coverage in newspapers on Wednesday in Ohio, a swing state that forms a plank of his strategy to win a second term in November's election.

Cameron, however, is shadowed on the trip by his own political concerns.

Reports said that British police probing phone hacking had arrested former Rupert Murdoch aide Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie, a close friend of the prime minister earlier on Tuesday.

Socialites in Washington were meanwhile looking forward to the state dinner, with US Open golf champion Rory McIlroy, the world number one from Northern Ireland, confirming on Twitter that he was on the closely guarded guest list.

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