LONDON – President Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday laid to rest any speculation that their relationship would be any less chummy than the one between the U.S. president and Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair.
But Brown's opening remarks in his first press conference with the U.S. president went a step further, laying down a set of priorities with which the next occupant of the White House will have to deal.
The British prime minister emphasized security issues and echoed the president when he said that decisions about troops would only be made "on the military advice of our commanders on the ground."
"There is no doubt ... that Al Qaeda is operating in Iraq. There is no doubt that we've had to take very strong measures against them. And there is no doubt that the Iraqi security forces have got to be strong enough to be able to withstand not just the violence that has been between the Sunni and the Shia population and the Sunni insurgency, but also Al Qaeda itself," Brown said.
"So one of the tests that the military commanders will have on the ground ... before we move from combat to overwatch, is whether we are strong enough and they are strong enough to enable them to stand up against that threat," he said.
The British have about 5,500 troops in southern Iraq, where the insurgency is less active. Because of the calm there, the British military is on track to turn over Basra by the end of the year from 500 British troops to Iraqi forces. Brown said he wants to ensure the Iraqis are successful with the transfer by creating a Basra economic development agency with the help of the United States and United Kingdom.
U.S. officials have said that turning over power to Iraqis as they are able to assume it is part of a longstanding plan. Bush praised the progress in the Iraqi regions where the British military is deployed.
"The Brits have been involved in four of the provinces; transfer has taken place in three of the four. Why? Because progress was made. It's a results-oriented world, and the results were such that Great Britain was able to transfer responsibility," Bush said.
"That's what we want to do. We want to be in a position where we can achieve results on the ground so that we can be in a different posture," he said, adding that he has no doubt Brown understands the stakes in Iraq and will keep Bush "abreast of his military commanders' recommendations based upon conditions on the ground."
Bush said that he can envision Brown as a partner helping to maintain the historical partnership between the U.S. and England. He also got ahead of reporters by saying at the top that he and Brown already share the camaraderie held by close allies.
"So everyone is wondering whether or not the prime minister and I are able to find common ground, get along, to have a meaningful discussion. The answer is absolutely," Bush said. "I would describe Gordon Brown as a principled man who really wants to get something done."
Brown called it a "great honor for me to come within a few weeks of becoming prime minister of England here to Camp David."
Brown and Bush tried to keep it informal as they got to know each other Sunday and Monday, but weighty issues filled the discussions in private one-on-one meetings. The full agenda for the two men included talks on nuclear proliferation and Iran's weapons pursuits; climate change; Mideast peace; violence in Darfur, Sudan; African poverty; global trade; terrorism; and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brown arrived by helicopter at Camp David late Sunday after booming thunderstorms gave way to sunshine. He emerged to find a military honor guard and Bush waiting for him. Bush drove the two of them away in a golf cart after doing a playful 360-degree maneuver in front of the gathered media. The two went off for a private dinner.
Bush said the leaders spoke for two hours at dinner, dismissing their entourages to the bowling alley to continue what has become a "Ryder Cup of bowling."
"I think the trophy was left in Great Britain, if I'm not mistaken," Bush said.
Many had questioned whether Brown would take a different tack than his predecessor in his approach to relations with the U.S. Blair was referred to on more than one occasion as Bush's lap dog. While Brown is not assuming that position, he and Bush revealed no light between them when it comes to the key issue of Bush's presidency.
"Terrorism is not a cause, it is a crime and it is a crime against humanity," Brown said. "And there should be no safe haven and no hiding place for those who practice terrorist violence or preach terrorist extremism."
Asked if he had the same philosophy as Bush on dealing with terrorism, Brown answered, "Absolutely."
"What do you expect the answer to be, Rutenberg? Come on, man," Bush added, joking with the reporter.
Bush didn't directly answer whether he planned to pass on the war to the next president, but hinted that was likely. "This is going to take a long time in Iraq, just like the ideological struggle is going to take a long time," he said.
Many observers expected Brown to flop because of a personality often derided as dour and brooding — yet these very traits have helped him appear serious and statesmanlike. Bush said the Scotsman was not "awkward" or in any way like the British media have depicted him.
"He's actually a humorous Scotsman, the guy that we actually were able to relax and to share some thoughts," Bush said, also alluding to the Browns' loss of their prematurely born first child. "He's a man who suffered unspeakable tragedy, and instead of that weakening his soul, it strengthened his soul. I was impressed."
But Brown did broach a tier of topics that are ongoing and will continue past the January 2009 end of Bush's second term.
"Every generation faces new challenges. And the challenges that we face in 2007 are not the same as the challenges that we faced as a government when Tony Blair started in 1997," he said.
"Today, in 2007, we see the challenges are radically different from what they were 10 years ago. We have the climate change challenge we've just been discussing, which wasn't one that was seen in exactly the same way a few years ago.
Brown mentioned energy security, climate change, competition with India and China in attaining energy and violence and poverty in Africa. Included, too, was the perennial issue of Middle East peace.
Brown made his first major overseas trip buoyed by a surprising degree of public support after a first month in office in which he impressed with his sober handling of the terror plots in London and Glasgow.
"I do congratulate the prime minister for his steady and swift response in the face of a significant threat to the homeland. You've proved your worthiness as a leader," Bush said.
FOX News' Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.