DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- President Bush acknowledged yesterday that he lost a "staunch friend" and "outstanding ally" when Margaret Thatcher bowed out as British prime minister.
Speaking to reporters in a bunker near a U.S. Marine installation in the Saudi desert, the president said he was confident that British support of the effort to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait would continue under Mrs. Thatcher's successor.
"But on a personal basis, I'll miss her," Mr. Bush said. "She's a woman of principle. She's stood for what she believes. You always knew where she was and what she believed."
"I think everyone in America would agree that Margaret Thatcher has been an outstanding ally for the United States," he added.
[Former President Ronald Reagan saluted Mrs. Thatcher yesterday, calling the resignation of his one-time staunch ally a "selfless and courageous decision," the Associated Press reported.
["Margaret Thatcher was a completely reliable ally and partner of the greatest personal integrity," Mr. Reagan said in a statement. "I could always count on her wise counsel, her firm support and her loyal friendship."]
Mrs. Thatcher has certainly been an outstanding ally of George Bush in his Desert Shield operation. She has been the most outspoken -- and sometimes the only -- U.S. partner in the endeavor to take an unflinchingly bold stand against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Just this week in Paris, as Mrs. Thatcher was awaiting the results of the challenge to her leadership of the Conservative Party, she publicly advocated using military force to oust the Iraqis. The Soviets, French and Germans were cautioning patience.
Her hawklike tone made it seem as if she and Mr. Bush were alone in the effort. The British force of 14,000 troops was the second-largest on the allied side in the Persian Gulf, and Mrs. Thatcher doubled the figure yesterday to more than 28,000 -- not counting some 2,000 British sailors in the gulf region.
"We will obviously work with the next prime minister, and I expect that, knowing the fiber there, that they'll stay right on course with us," the president said. "But I'll miss her because I value her counsel, I value . . . the wisdom that comes with her long experience."
Mr. Bush also indicated in an exchange with one of the Marines in the bunker that he had been surprised at Mrs. Thatcher's decision to withdraw rather than fight for her post on a second ballot.