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Bush, Brown start to build rapport

President Bush welcomed Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain at Camp David, Md., yesterday. President Bush welcomed Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain at Camp David, Md., yesterday. (Charles Dharapak/associated press)

CAMP DAVID, Md. -- President Bush, starting a new relationship late in his presidency, welcomed British Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday with casual diplomacy.

In the tranquillity of the Catoctin Mountains, Bush and Brown began their brief meeting -- yesterday evening and today -- at Camp David, with an emphasis on private time between the two. Their substantive agenda is familiar: terror threats, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, crisis in Darfur, stalled trade.

Yet the overarching theme is rapport -- and establishing some.

Bush is aiming for at least a solid relationship with Brown, shaped around their nations' mutual interests. That much is expected, but it is far from the kinship Bush had with Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, who lost favor at home because of his close ties to Bush.

Brown arrived by helicopter at Camp David after booming thunderstorms gave way to sunshine. He emerged to find a military honor guard and Bush waiting for him.

"It's a great pleasure to be here at Camp David because there's so much history associated with it," Brown told Bush as the leaders exchanged small talk.

Bush drove the two of them away in a golf cart after doing a playful 360-degree maneuver in front of the gathered media. The two were off for a private dinner.

En route to the United States, the new British leader said the world is indebted to the United States for taking the lead in the fight against terrorism. Brown said he would use his visit to strengthen what Britain considers its "most important bilateral relationship."

London and Washington are focused on "the biggest single and immediate challenge the world has to defeat: global terrorism," Brown told reporters traveling with him.

"In this century it has fallen to America to take center stage," Brown said. "America has shown by the resilience and bravery of its people from Sept. 11 that while buildings can be destroyed, values are indestructible.

"And we should acknowledge the debt the world owes to the United States for its leadership in this fight against international terrorism," he said.

Brown denied speculation that Britain's relationship with the United States was cooling.

His predecessor, Blair, was often accused at home of being too compliant with the policies of President Bush, especially regarding the Iraq war. Some analysts have urged Brown to be more like Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill, who had close ties with the United States but remained frank about their own goals and policies.

Brown makes his first major overseas trip buoyed by a surprising degree of public support after a first month in office in which he impressed with his sober handling of the terror plots in London and Glasgow.

Many observers expected Brown to flop because of a personality often derided as dour and brooding -- yet these traits have helped him appear statesmanlike.

Brown arrives with some thorny issues to manage, not least the fate of Britain's remaining soldiers in Iraq.

In Washington, officials expressed optimism about Bush and Brown, but there has already been friction. Junior foreign affairs minister Mark Malloch-Brown raised eyebrows when he said Bush and Brown would not be "joined at the hip" -- a jab at Bush and Blair's relationship.