Politics - Adam Boulton warns Blair about "abroad"

Blair has been told by the Americans that if he wants progress on aid and climate change, or support

They don't want to lose him but they think he ought to go. Indulgent members of the Parliamentary Labour Party have adopted a form of words to deal with Tony Blair's departure date: "Well," they say fondly, "there's the presidency of the G8 and the EU this year. Naturally he wants to do them, and then . . . " The Prime Minister may have encouraged this view with his talk of "being away too long" during the second term, after the events of 11 September 2001. "Abroad", he implied, had been a diversion from the real stuff of skoolz'n'ospitals.

But now he's off again. After marking Africa Day in Rome with Berlusconi, it will be Bush in Washington, Putin in Moscow and Chirac and Schroder somewhere, plus the EU leaders collectively in Brussels. In July it'll be Singapore for the 2012 Olympics bid and Gleneagles to host the G8. The autumn brings China, India, Malta, the US again (twice) and more Brussels.

Is this a case of deja vu - the late-period prime minister posing against the off-the-peg drama of international statesmanship in preference to humdrum disappointments on the domestic agenda? Remember Margaret Thatcher toasting the end of the cold war in Paris while her MPs stabbed her in London, and then John Major's beef wars.

So long as the economy remains stable, Blair's political legacy is more likely to be defined by foreign policy than by events at home. For good or ill, he will forever be remembered for the Iraq war. From the EU constitution, through global warming/Africa and on to the special relationship with the US, he has devoted more hours to Britain's role in the world than any prime minister since Churchill.

He may have no choice. Far from dying down, tensions in the western alliance are about to flare again, once more revolving around the United Nations. Scarcely noticed amid our election din, the US is sending out loud messages about the UN, and not just with the nomination of the confrontational John R Bolton as US ambassador. In April the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, told the American Society of Newspaper Editors: "[The UN] cannot survive as a vital force in international politics if it does not reform. As important an institution as it is, one has to say there are some things that are not so great about the United Nations right now . . . "

Republican senators briefing British journalists in late May were even more blunt, applauding Bolton's remark that no one would notice the difference if the UN headquarters lost its top ten floors. "What I want is a United Democratic Nations," said one, taking up a long-standing grievance that membership of the General Assembly more often props up than curbs despotic regimes.

Discontent focuses on Kofi Annan's continued tenure as secretary general. In the Republican world-view, the UN's failure to take a stand for "freedom" in disputes around the world - from Iraq onwards - makes his position untenable. So do the investigations into corruption in Iraq's oil-for-food programme.

These matters may well come to a head before the Millennium Summit at the UN in September, when Annan will present his own plans for institutional reform, notably to expand Security Council membership. The US position is

shaping up to be "reform yes, Annan no".

Anyone who witnessed the alacrity with which George W Bush kicked the chair out from under Yasser Arafat while

standing next to Blair at a news conference

in Crawford, Texas, knows what this could mean for the PM. He realises that the Americans can now block both his goals for the G8. He has been told that if he wants progress on aid and climate change, or support for the UN, the price is likely to be the head of Annan. On his chosen international stage, the PM's hard choices are just beginning.

For all George Galloway's fireworks in Washington, his doings are not the real meat of the Senate investigations into Iraq. The committee believes it has implicated a prominent Russian politician, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and a prominent French one, Charles Pasqua. A unilateralist US is placing countries such as France and Russia on a list of neither friend nor foe. Germany is heading that way, too, after elections in North Rhine-Westphalia reinforced US fears that the country is turning anti-capitalist and anti-globalist. Reduced troop levels in Germany are viewed as a certainty once Donald Rumsfeld completes his defence review.

"We want a smaller footprint," explained

a senator, adding that the US knew where a US presence was wanted. Poland, the Baltic states, perhaps even Uzbekistan are friends. So is Tony Blair. Gordon Brown is not. Rice famously remarked: "We have problems with your Mr Brown." If Britain is to pull off a successful G8 summit, the US will want it to be Tony's triumph, not Gordon's.

Adam Boulton is political editor of Sky News. This is the latest in a series of political columns by guest writers

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