Anti-Bush Protesters Face Obstacles As US President Arrives in Britain
LONDON - US President George W. Bush arrived in Britain on Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Iran and other issues, as both sides vigorously denied any rift over troop levels in Iraq.
The president's visit was the penultimate stop on his European farewell tour before leaving office in January. It is the first time Brown, who took over from Bush's close political friend Tony Blair, has hosted him on home soil.
Anti-war campaigners opposed to British and US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan were expected to stage a vocal protest, which has been a rare sight during Bush's week-long tour of Europe.
Bush, flying in from France, was to take afternoon tea with Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday before holding talks with Brown at Downing Street. He will head to Northern Ireland on Monday, his last stop before flying home.
Even before Bush's presidential Air Force One airplane touched down at London Heathrow, top officials dismissed a report in The Observer newspaper that suggested he would warn Brown against a premature withdrawal from Iraq.
"There is no disagreement between us, between the President and Prime Minister Brown, on this issue, period," US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters.
The two agree that any withdrawal "has to be a result of progress on the ground, on the advice of our military, and not according to any arbitrary schedule," said Hadley.
Another US official branded the report "ludicrous."
A Downing Street spokeswoman told AFP that there was "absolutely no disagreement" with the United States over the issue.
Hadley said the talks would focus on tightening sanctions on Iran over its refusal to freeze its suspect nuclear programme -- a subject Bush said on Saturday had "dominated" his European tour thus far.
"That (sanctions) seems to be pretty clear commitment and consensus throughout Europe," the adviser said.
Both sides said the talks would also include climate change, the state of the global economy and ongoing efforts to clinch an international trade liberalisation deal.
His London visit is set to be marked by protests from anti-war campaigners unhappy at the reception for the architect of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but police will apply strict controls on the anti-Bush demonstrations.
Bush said in an interview with The Observer newspaper that "no definitive timetable" should be given for pulling out troops from Iraq, in what the weekly had described as a "warning" for Brown.
Media reports suggested this week that Brown could soon announce a final timetable for the withdrawal of Britain's remaining 4,000 or so troops from southern Iraq by the end of 2008.
Bush, who has also visited Germany, Italy, the Vatican City and Slovenia, touched down from Paris, where in talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy they set aside past differences between the two countries over Iraq.
From Heathrow airport, he and his wife Laura headed for nearby Windsor Castle, west of London, to meet the 82-year-old monarch and her husband Prince Philip. US Ambassador to Britain Robert Tuttle was also present.
They will then head for dinner with Brown and his wife, Sarah, amid tight security and a potential stand-off between police and protesters.
Brown went to the US presidential retreat at Camp David outside Washington last July, soon after taking over from Blair, to reaffirm transatlantic ties. He also visited the White House in April this year.
"Brown is a different personality than Blair. The president, I think, has forged a good, close relationship with each and both of them," said Hadley.
"And, of course, what underlines that relationship is the fact that the United States and Britain continue to have a very special relationship," he added.
Bush's last high-security visit to London, in November 2003, saw three full days of protests, with tens of thousands of people marching past Downing Street marshalled by 5,000 police officers.
The Stop the War Coalition, which wants full British withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, is planning vocal protests in London and Windsor, again urging Bush's arrest for war crimes and opposition to US pressure on Iran.
© 2008 Agence France Presse