Blair No. 2 Gets Heat for Ripping on Bush's Mideast Policy

With Prime Minister Tony Blair on vacation, the man in charge of Britain's government found himself in a tempest over harsh language he allegedly used to describe President Bush's Middle East policies.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott strongly denied claims Thursday that he had privately told a group of lawmakers that the Bush administration had done a "crap" job of promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Harry Cohen, a fellow legislator from the governing Labour Party, said Prescott told the lawmakers he had backed the Iraq war in the hope that Washington would press for the Middle East peace plan known as the "road map."

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"He said he only backed the Iraq war for the road map ... and he was really lamenting the lack of progress on the road map, and he said quite specifically that the Bush administration was crap in taking the road map forward," Cohen told The Associated Press.

Cohen claimed Prescott went on to say "that Bush was a cowboy in a Stetson hat, too simplistic instead of getting down to the work of the road map."

The Bush administration played down the alleged remarks. White House press secretary Tony Snow said Bush had "been called a lot worse and, I suspect, will be."

"And there will be piquant names, sort of, hurled his way from time to time, but, you know, that's part of the burden of leadership," Snow said.

Prescott said in a statement that Cohen's description of the meeting, first reported in The Independent newspaper, was inaccurate "and it is not my view."

Blair's close alliance with Bush has long caused anger within his governing Labour Party. The upset intensified this month over his refusal for several weeks to call for an immediate end to fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, a stance that he conceded had caused unease even within his Cabinet and among Foreign Office experts on the Middle East.

Last spring, Prescott acknowledged having an extramarital affair. In the 2001 general election campaign, he punched a protester who had thrown an egg.

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