Ed Miliband likely to meet Barack Obama on US trip

The White House

Ed Miliband is aiming to stage a high-stakes visit to Washington next week that will likely include a drop-in meeting with Barack Obama, the same level of courtesy offered to David Cameron in 2008 when the then-leader of the opposition met Obama's predecessor, George Bush.

The meeting will not be Miliband's first encounter with Obama but the visit to Washington will be his first in his official capacity as leader of the opposition.

It is expected to take place on Monday and will include a speech to a Washington thinktank highlighting the confluence in Labour and Democrat thinking about the broken link between economic growth and shared prosperity.

The US president and the Labour leader are likely to discuss Afghanistan, because if elected Miliband will be involved in the final pullout of British troops.

British opposition leaders have historically had mixed fortunes in visiting US presidents, but Labour hopes the longstanding alliance between the party and the Democrats should guarantee a successful encounter, despite doubts in Washington about the likelihood of Miliband being elected prime minister next year.

One of Obama's former aides, David Axelrod, is overseeing Miliband's election campaign. Stan Greenberg, a prominent Democrat pollster, is also advising the Labour leader.

Cameron visited Bush in Washington in 2008 with a 10-point lead in the polls and was widely seen as likely to be the next British prime minister. Tory-Republican relations were poor at the time because of opposition to the Iraq war voiced by Michael Howard, Cameron's predecessor as Conservative leader.

Cameron also met Obama as leader of the opposition in July 2008, when Obama was the Democrats' presidential candidate.

While still opposition leader, Cameron also held half an hour of talks with Obama and his most senior staff at the US ambassador's residence in London.Obama, who by then had been elected president, was attending the G20 summit chaired by Gordon Brown in April 2009.

Miliband's visit next week is bound to be a media minefield. The British press will look for any sign of a White House snub, or indifference to the Labour leader.

Miliband has strikingly little time abroad, although he has been to Afghanistan and various European countries, the latter often to attend social democrat policy forums. He and his deputy, Harriet Harman, met Obama in 2011 when the US president was in the UK.

Obama is due in Britain in September, when he will attend a Nato summit in Wales, and it is possiblehe and Miliband will meet a second time then as a courtesy.

Miliband is fond of America – he studied at Harvard and is a baseball fan – but the White House is likely to want to grill him about at his attitude to US intervention in Syria last summer, when it was alleged that Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons on his own people, so crossing a red line set by Washington.

Labour voted not to endorse intervention, and Cameron was privately furious that concessions he had granted to Miliband did not lead to conditional Labour support in the key Commons vote. Labour in turn was surprised that Cameron saw the Commons vote as a final rejection of intervention.

The vote in London also emboldened critics opponents of intervention in the US Congress, which in turn led the Russian president, Vladimir Putin to use his influence to persuade Damascus to hand over the bulk of its chemical weapons.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 16th July 2014 11.23 Europe/London

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