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Obama, Cameron reaffirm Afghan withdrawal plan

Olivier Knox, Yahoo News
The Ticket

President Barack Obama and visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday ruled out any dramatic changes to plans to withdraw international forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 in the aftermath of the alleged slaughter of Afghan civilians by a US soldier.

"I don't anticipate, at this stage, that we're going to be making any sudden, additional changes to the plan that we currently have," Obama said as he and Cameron held a joint press conference in the White House's Rose Garden.

The president acknowledged "a hard slog" in America's longest war but he and his guest "reaffirmed the transition plan" and vowed: "We're going to complete this mission, and we're going to do it responsibly."

"We will not give up on this mission," agreed Cameron.

The two leaders also discussed efforts to pressure Iran over its suspect nuclear program, and Syria over its bloody crackdown on opposition to Bashar al-Assad, as well as effort to steer the global economy on a path to renewed prosperity.

Cameron said America and Britain sought a peaceful transition in Syria "rather than revolution or civil war" but warned that could be the outcome unless Assad changes his approach. The prime minister also said that Britain was pledging another ₤2 million in food and medicine to international humanitarian efforts.

On Iran, Obama warned Tehran that international talks set to resume were Tehran's "best bet" to find a peaceful end to the standoff over its nuclear program, which Washington charges hides an attempt to develop the ability to build an atomic weapon. Iran denies the accusations.

At Cameron's formal welcoming ceremony earlier, the two leaders yukked it up with jokes about British forces burning the White House during the War of 1812 and quips anchored on Irish writer George Bernard Shaw's observation that America and England are two nations "divided by a common language."

"It's not been 200 years since the British came here, to the White House, under somewhat different circumstances," Obama joked. "They made quite an impression. They really lit up the place. But we moved on."

"I am a little embarrassed, as I stand here, to think that 200 years ago my ancestors tried to burn this place down," Cameron quipped. "Now, looking around me, I can see you've got the place a little better defended today. You're clearly not taking any risks with the Brits this time."

The prime minister also played off his road-trip with Obama late Tuesday to see an NCAA basketball tournament match-up in the battleground state of Ohio — Cameron's first ever basketball game.

"I will leave America with some new words — alley-oops, brackets, fast breaks. And, who knows, maybe that hoop will be installed in Downing Street after all," he said, referring to the prime minister's official residence in London.

Obama also riffed on how delighted he was not to have to pause for the official translation of his remarks, and joked Americans and British "speak the same language — most of the time"

"So let me just say, David, we are chuffed to bits that you are here, and I'm looking forward to a great natter," the president joked.

The two leaders also celebrated the "special relationship" between America and Britain, with Obama calling it "the strongest that it has ever been" and Cameron agreeing that it has "never been stronger."

Those sunny words seemed to gloss over a series of worries straining bilateral relations.

The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and American anger over Scotland's 2009 release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to Libya unsettled relations. More recently, Obama's declared intention to pivot American foreign policy's orientation to Asia has caused some anxiety at 10 Downing Street. In the same vein, the United States has lamented its closest military ally's planned steep cuts to defense spending as part of UK austerity measures.

Cameron's visit was a boon to Obama's efforts to highlight his role as a leader on the world stage as the US election campaign moves into high gear. The backslapping tone of "Barack" joking with "David" showcased a generally upbeat relationship betweenthe two countries — perhaps serving as a political antidote to Obama's tense meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The president and First Lady Michelle Obama gave their guests a one-of-a-kind Braten 1000 Series Grill, hand made by Engelbrecht Grills and Cookers of Paxton, Illinois, and customized with American and British flags and a special plaque. The basic model retails for $1,895, according to the company's web site.The Camerons also received two White House chef jackets. (Drool, Britannia?) The Cameron kids received personalized American-made bean bag chairs.

Cameron said he had given Obama a table-tennis table.

This story was last updated at 4:10p.m. to correct day in first paragraph

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