US President Bush and British PM Tony Blair
Prime Minister Tony Blair began his last trip here as British leader Wednesday, armed with a parting shot to global opinion that US isolation would make a restive world far more dangerous.
President George W. Bush greeted his closest foreign ally warmly before the two headed into a private dinner that aides said would be dominated by talks about the US-led "war on terror."
Blair looked startled by a barrage of flashes from photographers chronicling his last White House meetings with Bush before he steps down on June 27, after a decade in power. "You're a famous person," his host quipped.
The two leaders were due to hold a press conference in the White House Rose Garden Thursday, heralding the end to a tumultuous partnership forged in the heat of the September 11 attacks of 2001 and the war in Iraq.
Despite the crippling cost that his support of Bush inflicted on his popularity at home, Blair insists that he did the right thing.
"I believe our country should be a strong ally of America, and I've never had any problem with that," he said in an interview with US network NBC Tuesday.
"I think it will be a very dark day for my country when we do have a problem with it," Blair said.
"The biggest danger is if America disengages, if it decides to pull up the drawbridge and say to the rest of the world, 'Well you go and sort it out.' We need America engaged."
After famously discovering a shared taste for Colgate toothpaste at their first meeting, the Republican president and the British Labour leader marched in lock-step through many of the world's hot-spots over the past six years.
Blair said he had learned tolive withtaunts of being Bush's "poodle" or "lapdog."
"I've found him immensely straightforward to deal with, someone alwaystrue to his wordand someone who's a very strong leader," he said.
The blood-soaked insurgency in Iraq and enduring threat from the Taliban in Afghanistan form part of a "broader global struggle," Blair added.
"And if we back away, if we give up on it, if we show any signs of retreat at all, then the enemy we face worldwide will be strengthened."
Bush paid his ownfulsometribute to Blair last Friday, after the British leader announced his departure.
"I'm going to miss him. He's a remarkable person. And I consider him a good friend," Bush said.