By Sumeet Desai and Matt Spetalnick
With the British anxious about the state of their “special relationship” with the United States, Prime Minister Gordon Brown goes to Washington this week bearing gifts for President Barack Obama as reminders of that long transatlantic lovefest.
Brown, the first European leader to visit Obama since his Jan. 20 inauguration, will give him a first edition of Martin Gilbert’s seven-volume biography of Winston Churchill, whose World War Two partnership with Franklin Roosevelt epitomized the Anglo-American alliance.
The second gift will be a framed commissioning paper for HMS Resolute, a Royal Navy ship that became icebound in the Arctic in the early 1850s while searching in vain for British explorer John Franklin’s lost expedition that had been seeking a Northwest Passage to Asia.
An American whaler later found Resolute and it was freed from the ice and returned to Queen Victoria in 1856. In 1880, the British goverment, as a gesture of thanks, presented President Rutherford B. Hayes with a desk made from timbers of the ship, and ever since it has been used in the Oval Office by most presidents, including Obama. A replica figured as a plot device in the Hollywood thriller “National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets”, in which a secret compartment in the desk contained pieces of a clue.
At their White House talks on Tuesday, Brown also planned to give Obama a pen holder fashioned from the timber of HMS Gannet, a sister ship of the Resolute that also served for a time on anti-slavery missions off Africa.
The hope, it seems, is Obama will be reminded of America’s longstanding ties to Britain, which lost its 13 colonies after they rebelled against the Crown in 1776 but which later forged an alliance that spanned two world wars in the 20th century.
Brown wants to strengthen an alliance with Obama to combat the global financial crisis and reinforce London’s relationship with Washington. But there is growing concern in Britain that Washington’s attention is increasingly on Asia, with its growing economic clout, rather than Europe.
There was no word, however, on what gift Obama might have in mind for his guest.
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