British Prime Minister David Cameron bolsters reputation, wins key ground at Canada summits

TORONTO (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in Canada for his first international summit, stepping into a fraught divide between Europe and the United States over how best to aid global economic recovery.

And the new British leader leaves with his reputation significantly enhanced after wrestling a key concession from G-20 leaders on reducing massive budget deficits, vindicating his country's recently announced harsh spending cuts and tax rises.

The 43-year-old Conservative won rare public praise from Chinese President Hu Jintao, began a thawing of Britain's frosty relations with Russia and bolstered the much prized "special relationship" with the United States — swapping beers with President Barack Obama.

While some other world leaders have grown weary of the G-8 and G-20 carousel of meetings around the globe, an energized Cameron came to Canada determined to make his mark.

He was one of the first leaders to arrive in Huntsville, Ontario, where the Group of Eight top industrial democracies began their summit Friday. Over the weekend, the expanded Group of 20, which includes developing nations, met in Toronto.

At the start of the three intense days of talks, Cameron trumpeted his intentions in an op-ed piece in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper chastising his fellow leaders over summits that "fail to live up to the hype and to the promises made."

In a distinct change of tone from recent summits — and despite Obama's concerns that cutting stimulus spending too quickly could hurt the global recovery — the G-20 leaders used their communique on Saturday to commit rich nations to cutting budget deficits in half by 2013. They also agreed to stabilize deficits by 2016.

That was a big win for Britain, which has the largest budget deficit in the G-20.

Cameron's economic policies are a world away from those of his Labour Party predecessor, Gordon Brown, and his personal demeanor injected a freshness into old relationships.

He made headway in a series of one-on-one chats with other leaders at the summit, cramming in as many bilateral meetings as possible.

Cameron's session with Obama was his first private meeting with the American president since taking power last month in a coalition government. It came as the allies' relations have been strained by the BP oil spill. However, neither man mentioned the environmental disaster as they spoke with reporters, instead focusing on similarities in the countries' world outlooks.

The relationship between the U.S. and Britain is arguably more important today than at any other time since World War II, strengthened in recent years by their joint — and difficult — campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama and Cameron both said the war in Afghanistan must show progress this year as the G-20 committed to a five-year drawdown on troops.

The pair extended their time together in Canada when Cameron hitched a ride with Obama on his helicopter between summits after his own aircraft was grounded by fog and they showed camaraderie in their public swapping of beers to resolve their bet over the U.S.-England soccer match in the World Cup, which ended in a 1-1 tie.