CAMP DAVID — CAMP DAVID -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is regarded as a somber figure in his home country, in contrast to his predecessor, the energetic Tony Blair.
But after spending four hours alone with the new British leader during dinner Sunday and a long breakfast yesterday, President Bush declared that conventional wisdom about Brown is distorted, and he said the relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain was as strong as ever, despite a change in leadership.
"He's not the dour Scotsman that you describe him, or the awkward Scotsman. He's actually the humorous Scotsman," Bush said during an outdoor news conference after his first face-to-face meetings with the British leader since he took office. "He's a problem-solver. ... He's a glass-half-full man."
Bush invited Brown to the secluded presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains for talks that touched on military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, trade, global climate change, the Middle East and Darfur.
The subtext of the discussions was whether the president would enjoy the same relationship with Brown as he did with Blair, whose support of Bush's policies -- especially on the war in Iraq -- eroded his political support.
Several top Brown allies have made recent critical references to the Bush administration's Iraq policy, including a Cabinet member who said the idea of a war on terror had emboldened terrorists.
"The cumulative effect of these signals cannot have been accidental, even if not all of the speeches were pre-approved," wrote the editorial board of The Guardian of London.
In their remarks, Brown and Bush repeatedly said they were of like mind on important issues facing them and the world, while reporters probed at their words -- looking for differences.
Brown, for example, said British troops were fighting in Afghanistan because the country "is the front line against terrorism."
Asked later why Iraq didn't deserve that distinction, Brown attempted a clarification by saying, "I think I described Afghanistan as the first line in the battle against the Taliban."
He also said terrorism "is not a cause, it is a crime," a characterization that prompted a question about whether a law-enforcement response would be more appropriate than a military one.
Explaining further, Brown seemed to close the gap. "We are at one in fighting the battle against terrorism," he said.
Brown has stopped referring to a "special relationship" between the United States and Great Britain, instead calling the connection his nation's "most important bilateral relationship."
Bush said he agreed with the phrasing, "for a lot of reasons."
"Great Britain has been attacked; we've been attacked," he said.
The visit marked the 14th time Bush has hosted a foreign leader at Camp David, the casual, camp-like compound that allows guests to interact in a more relaxed setting. Aides have said the president feels comfortable in less formal settings where he believes his personal skills can sway opinion and build allegiances.
After dining Sunday on beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes, green beans and peas, Bush dismissed the staffs of both delegations -- who decamped at the retreat's bowling alley for a match won by the Brits -- so he and Brown could hold a private discussion. The one-on-one talks continued after breakfast yesterday.
Whatever links Bush builds are sure to be short-lived. In its twilight, the Bush administration is hopeful of maintaining as strong an allegiance with Britain as possible as the struggle in Iraq continues. But Brown will likely spend more time working with Bush's successor.
Reflecting the change, the two leaders addressed reporters wearing business attire -- not the casual clothing Bush and Blair donned for their first meeting at the retreat.
"Everybody is wondering whether or not the prime minister and I were able to find common ground, to get along, to have a meaningful discussion," Bush said. "And the answer is, absolutely."
He said Brown's handling of recent terror-related incidents in London and Glasgow "proved your worthiness as a leader."
Brown did not directly compliment Bush, saying instead that "it's been a privilege to be able to have these discussions with the president."