After Pittsburgh, there's ground to cover

February 26, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- At last year's G-7 meeting in Japan, British Prime Minister John Major told President Clinton that his grandfather had been a bricklayer who went to Pittsburgh to build blast furnaces for steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Mr. Major's father grew up in Pennsylvania. The president said, next time you come over let's do Pittsburgh.

"And so it's come to pass," a high British official said yesterday at a government press briefing in the Foreign Office.

The president and the prime minister will tour urban development sites in Pittsburgh. But the spokesman stressed that Mr. Major was not traveling to the United States just for a sentimental visit to his father's formative years.

The real business will be discussed at dinner in Pittsburgh and at the White House, where the prime minister will spend Monday night -- and again Tuesday morning, when Mr. Major and Mr. Clinton breakfast together.

Bed and breakfast in the White House may not indicate an attempt to revitalize the so-called "special relationship" between the United States and Britain, but it's certainly neighborly. Few foreign dignitaries get asked home by the president.

British observers say any special relationship has cooled and faltered since Mr. Clinton took office. It had reached its height in the mutual admiration of Margaret Thatcher (who also slept in the White House) and Ronald Reagan when they had the jobs Mr. Major and Mr. Clinton hold.

The British spokesman discounted British media speculation about a diminished relationship. The British press notes frictions arising from Conservative support for George Bush in the last election campaign and differences over issues such as Bosnia.

Some British pundits now put Britain at No. 4 on the scale of U.S. affections in Europe, after Russia, Germany and France.

Government officials say very hard material interests still unite the United Kingdom and the United States: The United Kingdom is the largest "repository" of U.S. investment in the European Union. The United States is the largest locale for British investment, and the United Kingdom is the largest investor in the United States.

When asked if Mr. Major could expect as much coverage in the U.S. media as Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president from Northern Ireland, received on his visit two weeks ago, the spokesman replied that nobody at No. 10 [the Downing Street address of the prime minister] timed television appearances or counted newspaper inches.

The Clinton administration granted a 48-hour visa to Mr. Adams, the leader of the political wing of the Irish republican movement, over the objections of the British government and, indeed, those of the U.S. ambassador to Britain.

Mr. Adams turned his visit into a media triumph that was severely criticized in Britain, where Irish Republican Army firebombs continue to burst in major shopping areas. Britons called the president and the American public naive. Anthony Lake, Mr. Clinton's national security adviser, told British reporters Wednesday that it was unlikely Mr. Adams would be granted another visa until the IRA has demonstrated a willingness to join the peace process launched by Mr. Major and Albert Reynolds, the prime minister of the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland will certainly be discussed by Mr. Clinton and Mr. Major during the visit, the government spokesman said. The prime minister will tell the president that, after his "very successful" meeting a week ago with Mr. Reynolds, Dublin and London are agreed on what must be done next.

The two leaders will also discuss Bosnia. The prime minister's objective will be to achieve "an agreed common position between London and Washington."

Bosnia, reporters at the briefing were told, is moving into "an extremely active diplomatic phase," due in part to the success of U.N. forces on the ground, the threat of NATO air strikes and the involvement of Russia.

Washington is playing host to meetings this weekend between Bosnian Muslims and Croats.

Mr. Major has already sent his impressions of his Moscow visit last week to Washington. He and the president will talk about the greater Russian presence in Bosnia.

But Bosnia has been a source of differences between the United States and Britain. Mr. Major supported the air strike ultimatum against the Serbs only after strong personal urging by Mr. Clinton.

Britons fear an erosion of their position with Washington after France moved unexpectedly closer to the U.S. because of strong French cooperation with Mr. Clinton on the use of air strikes.

The British chafe because they have committed 2,500 troops to Bosnia while the United States has none.

Mr. Major may press for a greater U.S. military presence, the government spokesman said, but the United States has made it "palpably clear" that no ground troops would be introduced unless there is a stable peace agreement.

Mr. Major arrives in Washington tomorrow night and leaves Tuesday.

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