JDB Media Coverage of John Kerry’s Visit to UK

I’m happy to report that it’s been a busy day with the new U.S. Secretary of State in town. John Kerry flew into London late Sunday night ahead of breakfast meeting with Prime Minister, David Cameron, in Downing Street this morning before meeting with Foreign Office officials including the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, at lunchtime.

I have been involved in media coverage of the event throughout the day, providing comment to FM4 Radio in Austria this over breakfast, Monocle24 Radio mid-morning, BBC Radio Five Live at lunchtime and finally discussing the visit on The Brenner Brief this evening.

The new SecStat was at pains to stress the importance of the Special Relationship and declared that it was ‘no accident’ that his first overseas visit was to London, hopefully dispelling too many concerns over the notion of a Pacific Pivot by the Obama Administration. His sentiments on this issue mirror those expressed by former U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta in a speech made at King’s College London in January.

Whilst the following image will not win me any extra followers, I thought it was fun, taken at the New Broadcasting House headquarters of the BBC in central London.

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JDB on London’s LBC 97.3 fm Tonight at 21:20 GMT

I will be returning to the airwaves for the second time today to be in discussion with Kevin Maguire, sitting in for Iain Dale on LBC 97.3 fm.

Not surprisingly perhaps I will be addressing the international reaction to the events that have transpired in Libya, and the expected American reaction in particular. With allegations of having ‘led from behind’ how will the White House react now that the ‘Mad Dog’ has been overthrown?

Given the historic role that the United States has played with regard to Libya what will the direction of policy be under the new regime? Will President Obama seek to exploit this event in the presidential election of 2012, coupled with his administration’s success in killing Osama bin Laden?

What will the reaction be of the European powers who were at the forefront of efforts to remove Gaddafi from power? Where will this leave the relationships between Cameron and Hague, between Downing Street and the FCO? And spare a thought for Liam Fox, forced to resign before a potential hour of glory.

These issues and more will be addressed in what will no doubt be a fascinating interview. Tune in online at: http://www.lbc.co.uk/listen-live-3578

JDB and Sky News

As some of you may have seen, I was on Sky News this morning, discussing President Obama’s trip to Europe. The conversation concentrated on his initial stop-over in Eire, where he will apparently revel in his Irish ancestry. I must admit that one doesn’t really look at Obama and immediately think of the Emerald Isle, but I guess that he is just the latest in a long line of president’s claiming Irish ancestry to bolster their domestic standing with the Irish community in the United States.

I seem to remember when Obama used to be from Kenya and Hawaii? Apparently that was soooo yesterday! I know he campaigned on a platform of ‘Change’ but I didn’t think that changing his ancestry was what he had in mind.

In London from Tuesday, Obama will hold meetings at Downing Street with the PM David Cameron to discuss Afghanistan and UK/US foreign policy. Doubtless to say questions of the Special Relationship will come up, along with issues pertaining to the demise of Osama bin Laden.

Obama will be staying as a guest of Her Majesty the Queen and will also address both houses of Parliament. A press briefing is expected at the FCO. The president will be accompanied by Secretary of State Clinton who is expected to hold meetings with her opposite number, William Hague.

Suffice to say, getting around central London may be a little tricky with the heightened security this week!

I will be returning to the airwaves through the week as the president spends his State Visit here in London, so watch this space for more news.

JDB, Chatham House and 60 Years of UK-Israeli Foreign Relations

Yesterday I had the great honour, and high privilege to attend a Chatham House conference marking 60 years of UK-Israeli foreign relations, at the invitation of the Israeli embassy here in London.

The conference was organised to celebrate 6 decades of international relations between the two countries and to ponder the current and future state of affairs. We in the audience were most fortunate in that the keynote address was delivered in person by the President of Israel, Shimon Peres. Click here for a link to his address.

Convened by the always smooth Dr. Robin Niblett, the day featured panels examining bilateral relations, economic and scientific issues as well as security matters. The make-up of the panellists reflected the high quality of the day and included Dr. Claire Spencer from Chatham House, Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, Israel’s Ambassador to London, HE Ron Proser, the ever effervescent Baroness Susan Greenfield, James Blitz from the Financial times, Dr. Uzi Arad, former Chairman of the Israeli National Security Council, and Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI-6.

It was a remarkable day full of remarkable people, addressing a remarkable relationship that continues to redefine itself on a regular basis. The day was brought to a fitting conclusion with a talk from the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Right Honourable William Hague, MP. Click here for a video  of his remarks.

I was able to ask the Foreign Secretary about the constraints upon the British government and the quest for peace in the Middle East of having to conform to the straightjacket of the American political timetables.

The talk very much highlighted the traditional level of excellence at Chatham House and reminded us of the need for continued dialogue in this troubled world.

JDB Live on Talk Radio Europe Tonight

I will be talking with Richie Allen on Talk Radio Europe’s Tonight Show, from 7pm London Time, that’s 8pm in Europe and 2pm in New York.

Expect to hear my thoughts and observations on a raft of issues that have arisen in the last few weeks including my take on the White House reaction to the events in Egypt and Libya.

Obama, U.S. foreign policy and the role that the British government is playing will all likely be covered, so tune in if you can.

Talk Radio Europe can be accessed on the internet at www.talkradioeurope.com and you can listen live and on-line through the options available at http://www.talkradioeurope.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1676&Itemid=125

One Hundred Days And Counting…

So, one hundred days after the tumultuous events that followed the 2010 general election, what have we learnt about the coalition government and its approach to foreign policy?

For one thing, Cameron appears to have taken to the job like a duck to water. No apparent hesitation or diffidence has been evident. Neither have signs of self-doubt or insecurity. Whilst he clearly relishes the role of statesman, he is secure enough in his own skin to have appointed the very credible William Hague as Foreign Secretary, who has gone about breathing new life into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Key policy decisions have already been made and announced regarding Britain’s role in the world, and the direction the nation intends to take in the 5 years of this government.

Cameron’s foreign trips have proven to be a success, even when failure was forecast. No apparent problems dealing with the White House, despite the all too problematic situation concerning BP. His declarations that followed, regarding Israel and Pakistan have been rounded on (unsurprisingly) by David Milliband, and praised by our former man in Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer. Take your pick as to who to side with. (Here’s a hint, he wears red socks…) Intriguingly, these declarations, on the status of Gaza and of terrorism in Pakistan, came after the meeting at the White House and not before. Could this be a new strategy in the Special Relationship, of good cop (Obama), and straight talking bad cop (Cameron)? It’s too early to tell, but it is worth pondering as the weeks unfold…

With a new foreign policy initiative and a new defence policy on the horizon, Cameron has sought to revitalise UK foreign policy. With the newly inaugurated National Security Council, he has sought to restructure the decision-making process and in so doing, bring both policies and procedures into the 21st century.

One hundred days in, so far, so good…

For more on this, see my interview on Aljazeera, August 18, 2010.

How will D.C. be received in DC?

With the new British government now having issued its much vaunted Emergency Budget, eyes will no doubt start to turn towards the Prime Minister’s imminent visit to Washington to meet President Obama. The first visit by the PM to the White House is always an important event and this will prove to be no exception.

The meeting comes at a delicate time for UK/US relations. With troops serving together in Afghanistan the room for disagreement is slender, yet focus will no doubt be concentrated upon any potential rift caused by the BP oil disaster.

The media will no doubt be looking for any sign of division caused by the events in the Gulf of Mexico, the may even go so far as to stress division where none exists. What they will miss, no doubt, is the change in fortune that the Conservatives are experiencing in Washington and the implications that this may have for the Special Relationship.

It is standard diplomatic practice for the American president to grant an audience to the Leader of the Opposition. Even Ronald Reagan extended this courtesy to Neil Kinnock despite his obvious (and stated) support for Prime Minister Thatcher. Recent events have been somewhat more problematic, however. William Hague met George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas, prior to the election of 2000, but one wonders if the Texan governor thought that perhaps he was due to see former Secretary of State Al Hague?

In the years that followed the debacle of 2000 the leaders of Her Majesties’ loyal opposition were effectively given the cold shoulder in DC, so close was Bush to Blair. Michael Howard was considered persona non grata in Washington following his calls for Blair’s resignation and Ian Duncan Smith failed to make an impression in his 2002 visit.

Of course it is also true that the Conservatives have sought to gain access whilst still maintaining a low profile. David Cameron met Bush at the White House in a meeting in 2007, but images are hard to come by. Clearly there was a desire to be received in official Washington, but less of a desire to distribute images of Cameron with an unpopular president. Cameron’s visit in 2007 followed a 5 year absence from Washington for a leader of the Conservative Party, the longest since the advent of the jet engine.

When Prime Minster David Cameron returns to DC he will do so in a very different capacity and with a very different occupant of the White House. Barack Obama was the first foreign leader to congratulate Cameron upon becoming PM and the Foreign Secretary’s first overseas foray was to Washington and a meeting with Hillary Clinton.  This meeting was important as it presented the opportunity to reset official relations between London and Washington that has been waning for several years.

When Gorden Brown became PM he was eager not to become tainted by his relationship with George W. Bush, whose time in the White House was drawing to a close. Accordingly, Brown set a very different tone for the Special Relationship than had Tony Blair. However, it would appear that President Obama adopted a similar stance to Gordon Brown, not wishing to be seen as being to close to an unpopular British PM who was rightly expected to lose office at the earliest possible occasion.

With the departure of Brown and Bush and the emergence of Obama and Cameron, therefore, the slate has effectively been wiped clean, allowing for a new era in Transatlantic ties. Having met previously on Senator Obama’s trip to London in 2008, the PM will be eager to forge a new working relationship that is businesslike and balanced, avoiding the pitfalls that Blair fell into time and again for pandering to the White House with little or no derived benefit.

The Special Relationship is about far more than the chemistry between the two leaders, but when so much attention is focused upon their dealings, it has a disproportionate impact upon all other elements; politically, culturally and militarily. With this trip, the PM will be well placed to begin a new and positive era in US-UK relations and to put to rest overblown tales of Obama rejecting a bust of Churchill (which had only been lent to the Bush White House as W. was a known admirer) and of DVD gift sets. The past can be overcome. How the BP situation is dealt with, may well be another question…