Major strives for an even keel in U.S. visit

December 20, 1990|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Britain's new prime minister, John Major, arrives in Washington today to cement the trans-Atlantic "special relationship" in the post-Thatcher era and to establish his own identity.

His program includes an overnight visit with the president to Camp David, a series of prime-time TV interviews and a full-scale JTC news conference, as well as a lunch with a bipartisan group of congressmen.

He is aware that in following Margaret Thatcher to Washington he is treading in "giant shoes."

Said one aide: "She is very well known in the states and has been around for 11 years. It will take time, but I think Americans will take to him."

Such confidence is based on the expectation of popular U.S. approval of a politician who has reached the top from an unorthodox background -- the son of a circus trapeze artist, he left school at age 16.

"I am not worried," said one of his political counselors. "He is a very approachable man. I think he will fit into the way Americans do business."

Mr. Major is expected to endorse fully the Bush administration's policy in the Persian Gulf and will signal Britain's willingness to push for European concessions to U.S. free-trade demands to save the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talks.

Mr. Major also is expected to throw his full weight behind President Bush's rejection of anything short of total Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait as the basis for a peaceful settlement in the gulf.

"Partial withdrawal by Saddam Hussein is not acceptable. Only meeting the U.N. resolutions in full will do," said a close aide.

One area of concern for the British is the extent of U.S. popular support for military action in the gulf. Polls suggest that British public support for a showdown with Mr. Hussein is firmer than is U.S. sentiment.

On the vexed GATT talks, deadlocked after European Economic Community-United States confrontation earlier this month on agricultural subsidies, Mr. Major is expected to try to strike a conciliatory note without departing from the agreed European line.

British officials pointed out that at last week's European summit in Rome, Mr. Major insisted on inclusion in the final communique the assertion that "only a global approach based on balanced concessions made by all parties will enable negotiations to be brought to a successful conclusion."

Mr. Major will seek to get a similar recognition on the need for compromise from Mr. Bush without pushing for any specific undertakings.

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