Telegraph View: Afghanistan, Syria and Iran should be high on both leaders' agendas.
There was notable warmth in the White House’s formal announcement of this week’s official visit to Washington by David Cameron and his wife Samantha. It said that the trip would highlight the “fundamental importance of the US-UK special relationship” as well as the “strong personal bond” that has developed between the two leaders and their families.
Such words are rather more than mere diplomatic niceties. Britain’s relationship with our most important ally has usually been at its strongest when the people on the top have hit it off – Churchill and FDR, Macmillan and JFK, Thatcher and Reagan, Blair and Clinton. It is a little too early to say whether Cameron and Obama will join this club, but the auguries are good. The two men evidently get on well, while the fact that Mr Cameron will be the first foreign leader to be given a ride aboard Air Force One suggests more than the normal courtesies are in play. A close personal relationship allows both men to speak with candour. Given the complexity of some of the issues on their agenda, that will be invaluable.
The winding-down of the Nato operation in Afghanistan, where 16 Afghans were shot dead by a US soldier yesterday, is focusing minds on both sides of the Atlantic on what comes next. As the two biggest contributors to the Nato military effort, the US and UK have a particular responsibility for shaping the post-conflict settlement. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, recently spoke of his willingness to talk directly to the Taliban, to the satisfaction of the US state department which has been working on “Afghan-to-Afghan reconciliation” for some time. Mr Cameron and Mr Obama must put more flesh on these bones.
On Syria, it is hard to see anything of substance emerging. Last year’s successful Libya operation in which the United States was content to take a “followership” role is not going to be replicated in the infinitely more complex context of Syria. But the most intractable issue facing the two leaders will be Iran. Israel is increasingly – and understandably – restive about the existential threat that would be posed by a nuclear-armed Iran and now talks openly about launching a pre-emptive strike. That may explain why Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last week welcomed President Obama’s statement that there was still a “window of opportunity” to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme peacefully. Such conciliatory language is rare, leading some to conclude that Tehran is looking for a diplomatic way out of the impasse. Wishful thinking, perhaps – but this week’s US-UK talks will offer a timely opportunity to explore this proposition.