There's quite a bit of conjecture in the UK press of late regarding British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's agenda during his Camp David visit today with President Bush, with the speculation that Brown is setting the stage for an early withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
Just this morning there was a Reuter's report that Brown is not pushing that agenda:
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will not unveil a plan for an early withdrawal of British troops from Iraq in talks with U.S President George. W Bush on Sunday, Brown's spokesman said.
Meanwhile, there is also this evidence that suggests the thought has a least crossed his mind:
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's chief foreign policy adviser has sounded out the White House on a possible early withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
The Sunday Times quoted an unnamed source as saying that Simon McDonald gave the impression that he was "doing the groundwork" for Mr Brown, who meets US President George W. Bush today.
Mr McDonald, who ran the Iraq desk at the Foreign Office, is said to have asked a "select group" of US foreign policy specialists about the possible effects of a UK pull-out.
The paper quoted one of those consulted as saying: "The general feeling was that he was doing the groundwork for a Brown conversation.
"The view is Britain feels it can't fight two wars, and Afghanistan is more worth fighting for," the source added.
Downing St reportedly denied any change in policy.
Mr Brown has resisted calls for an immediate withdrawal of Britain's 5000-strong force, which is based around the southern port city of Basra, saying a pull-out would only come when the security situation was right.
Mr Brown said at the weekend Britain would remain the US's strongest ally and the "special relationship" could even become stronger.
With only 5,000 British troops left in Iraq, and all based in Basra - a city that is already virtually secured, and already scheduled to be handed over to Iraq security forces at the end of this year, the present British presence is essentially serving as just a peace-keeping proxy for U.S. forces.
Having British troops in Basra for another five months frees up U.S. forces for more important work elsewhere. And with PM Brown stating that Britain would remain our strongest ally, a sudden shift in Britain's pre-announced plans to stay through the end of the year seems unlikely.
Still, the speculation is swirling, despite PM Brown's seeming willingness to bear the public pressure he's receiving at home over his stated determination to ride it out the original plan.
At a time Brown hopes to strengthen relations with our country, an acceleration in Britain's withdrawal plans would certainly launch his relation-strengthening effort off to a chilling start.
My guess is -- no change in plans, and Brown will stick to the original withdrawal timetable. He stands to lose too much by doing otherwise.
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