| Michael Howard
London, Aug. 29 (Reuters): Britain’s Opposition Conservatives accused the White House yesterday of barring their leader from meeting President George W. Bush because he had criticised Bush’s ally Tony Blair over Iraq.
Aides for Conservative leader Michael Howard said President Bush’s top political adviser angrily phoned Conservative headquarters in February after criticism of Prime Minister Blair over intelligence on Iraqi weapons and equipment for British soldiers.
“You can forget about meeting the President full stop. Don’t bother coming, you are not meeting him,” the adviser, Karl Rove, told Howard’s office, according to the Sun newspaper.
Aides to Howard would not confirm those precise words, but said the gist of the message was the same.
“They were basically asking us to lay off Tony Blair which obviously we’re not prepared to accept,” one aide said.
In a statement, Howard insisted he would not bow to any external pressure.
“If some people in the White House, in their desire to protect Mr Blair, think I am too tough on Mr Blair or too critical of him, they are entitled to their opinion,” he said.
“But I shall continue to do my job as I see fit.”
The Conservatives have in the past been natural allies of Bush’s Republican Party. But the close personal relationship between Blair and Bush has overtaken traditional loyalties.
Well known as enthusiastically pro-American, Howard reiterated his warmth in general to the nation and said he could work with either Bush or Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry after November’s election.
“Britain shares with the United States many interests and many values, and the USA is our closest ally,” he said.
“A Conservative government would work very closely with President Bush or President Kerry, but my job as leader of the opposition is to say things as I see them in the interests of our country and to hold our government to account.”
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Rove had never spoken directly to Howard about access to Bush.