WASHINGTON – President Bush's first postelection meeting with a foreign leader comes this week when Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) of Britain, a staunch ally on Iraq, is due for two days of discussions at the White House.
Blair will be in Washington on Thursday and Friday for meetings to chart the way forward on a range of issues including terrorism and Iraq, White House press secretary Scott McClellan (search) said.
McClellan said the meeting is part of Bush's intention to reach out to allies in Europe and NATO "to promote development and progress, to defeat the terrorists and to encourage freedom and democracy as alternatives to tyranny and terror."
"The president looks forward to discussing with Prime Minister Blair how to strengthen further U.S. cooperation with the United Kingdom and all of Europe, as we address together the many challenges our nations face at the beginning of the 21st century," McClellan said.
Busy with his re-election campaign, Bush has not welcomed a foreign leader to the White House since August, when he was host to the interim prime minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi (search). Bush and Blair's last meeting was during a NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey, in June, but they talk by phone almost weekly.
Blair, in supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq, has defied public opinion at home and in many European capitals. It is widely assumed in Britain that Blair's support for Bush's Iraq policy came in return for a pledge that the Bush administration would push harder for peace between Israeli and the Palestinians.
Bush's "road map" plan for peace has been stalled for months. The day after Bush's re-election victory, Blair tried to nudge his ally forward by declaring that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the world's "single most pressing political challenge."
Although White House aides have said they see a new opening for Middle East peace in Bush's second term, the president did not fully embrace Blair's assessment. "I agree with him that the Middle East peace is a very important part of a peaceful world," Bush said in a Thursday news conference.
In his statement, Blair also urged European leaders to work with Bush on fighting terrorism and "resolving the conditions and causes on which the terrorists prey."
Another item sure to be on the Oval Office agenda are the Iraqi elections, scheduled for January, and the continuing deadly insurgency there. U.S. forces are gearing up for an expected offensive in Fallujah, the insurgents' strongest bastion.