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« Budget Alternative In House, Not Senate | Blog Home Page | White House On NY-20: Wait And See »

The Special Relationship, Take Two

Even with all the pressing issues facing the U.S. and U.K. ahead of the G-20 Summit, some in the British press are still focused on the perceived snub British PM Gordon Brown suffered during his visit to recent visit to Washington.

It started when White House press secretary Robert Gibbs referred to a "special partnership" between the two trans-Atlantic allies, instead of the usual "special relationship" monicker. Then, the Brits were shocked to learn that President Obama and Brown would not hold a full-fledged Rose Garden press conference, but rather a more informal Q&A in the Oval Office. Then, there was the issue of gifts. Brown presented Obama with a pen set made with timbers of a sister ship to the HMS Resolute, of which the president's desk was fashioned. Obama in return gave Brown a set of DVDs that were not even the proper version to play back in the U.K.

To see how this is all looming over the visit, look no further than Saturday's conference call the White House held to preview the trip. Here are the questions that came from British reporters:

Given the importance in international diplomacy of symbolism, I was just wondering if you could throw any light on the gift that the Obamas are likely to be giving the Queen. As you know, the presentation of the DVD box set raised some eyebrows in Britain. I wondered if there had been a sort of special thought going into this gift process.
Did we just hear Mike Froman restore the "special relationship" to its place in the lexicon, the special relationship with Britain, instead of the "special partnership"? He spoke about the value of it.
On this special relationship, there was a lot of stuff in the -- comment in Britain about -- Robert Gibbs, your talk about the "special partnership." But I did hear Mike Froman earlier talk about how he was coming to Britain to -- how President Obama was going to reaffirm the value of the "special relationship" with Britain. So I just wondered whether the "special relationship" was the phrase back in vogue as opposed to the "special partnership."

On the latter question, Gibbs said: "I continue to be mystified about the difference between the two words." Still, it was covered the next day as big news.

"The story of the snub was just too good for Fleet Street," Reginald Dale, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told me last week. "The British media will of course be watching Obama in London, where Brown is chairing the meeting, to see if there's any further attempt to patch things up."