US President George Bush was to pledge $674 million in new aid for Africa at a summit on Tuesday with British leader Tony Blair. But Washington will not back a key part of Blair's plan to ease African poverty.
Blair is confident Bush will open the White House coffers for Africa
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in Washington on Tuesday he was hopeful Britain would soon make an agreement with the United States on debt relief that would be a cornerstone of his plan to raise $25 billion (20.3 billion euros) for the world's poorest countries.
Speaking ahead of talks with US President George W. Bush, Blair said he was still aiming to reach the $25 billion figure before Britain hosts a summit of the Group of Eight industrial powers next month at Gleneagles in Scotland.
Blair is in Washington to press for US support for his plans to give a major boost to Africa's finances. The US government would play a key role in any debt relief plan that stands a chance of success.
"I think we are a significant way towards a deal (with the US), and that would be very important if we can do it," Blair told reporters at the British embassy in Washington. "There are still issues that need to be resolved (and) I am increasingly hopeful that we will get it," Blair added.
Blair said "my aim before the Gleneagles summit is that we end up with the aid that the Commission for Africa report indicated, which is an extra $25 billion." The international
commission was set up by Britain to report to the G8 summit.
The talks with Bush are set to be dominated by Africa and global climate change, two issues that Blair has made priorities during its term in charge of the G8 agenda.
White House pledge
The White House announced that the United States would offer another $674 million for humanitarian aid for Africa at the Bush-Blair talks and the British leader welcome this while commenting "there is a lot more that needs to be dealt with".
"I think the (US) administration itself has made this clear, this is not the only commitment that they have made." The White House said the new money came on top of $1.4 billion already committed to a UN fund for Africa.
"Of course this is important, we welcome what the administration has done ... but there is a lot more that needs to be done," said the British prime minister.
Bush was not dragging his feet over Africa, Blair insisted to the Financial Times before leaving for Washington earlier in the day. On the issue, the US president had "set out a whole series of steps where those words, in other people's mouths, would be seen as quite radical", Blair said.
In his interview, Blair was also positive about seeing progress on moves to tackle climate change, an issue the United States generally views with far less urgency than Britain and many other European nations do.
His attempts to find global consensus on the issue ahead of the G8 summit were "very ambitious", Blair admitted to the London-based paper, while refusing to be downcast. "Wait and see. There's all sorts of ways people can get into this argument," he said.
"We are at the beginning of the process. This is the first proper (opportunity to) sit down and talk about this and go through it all in a lot of detail between myself and the president. So I'd wait till you get to Gleneagles before it's clear exactly what's going to happen."
Blair's whirlwind visit to Washington -- he returns to London later Tuesday -- is among a rapid round of trips to G8 nations he is making before the summit.
Blair looking for payback
The US leg had been touted as a chance for Blair to try to cash in some of the political capital he built up by backing the US-led Iraq war of March 2003, something which cost the British leader dearly at home.
A month ago, Blair was returned to power for a third straight term in office, but with a greatly reduced parliamentary majority -- something caused in no small part by the Iraq effect.
Many pundits say that Blair is viewing his G8 agenda as a chance to secure his place in the history books in what he has already promised will be a final term as prime minister.
Still, most agree that however much Bush wants to oblige his close ally, he is unlikely to budge too far on key issues.