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With A Little Help From His Friends

Prime Minister Tony Blair provided welcome diversion in a tough week

By Bruce W. Nelan/TIME

Time cover

It was the biggest White House dinner of the Clinton Administration, and it may have been the most fun. Sir Elton John and Stevie Wonder sang and played, movie stars and producers glittered and laughed, and everyone danced. The guests of honor, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie, stayed until midnight, and the Clintons didn't go upstairs for another hour after that. While the name Monica Lewinsky must have been whispered at some of the tables, the gaiety was so general that Clinton might have been able to forget it for a while.


Blair did his best to help the President manage that during his four-day visit. Clinton referred to the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Britain in his toast at the dinner. It's a cliche about the countries, but it was just right about the two leaders. They are, as both said repeatedly, good friends, and they hold similar views on politics and social problems. "On so many, many issues," Blair enthused last week, "we think alike."

Although the visit had been planned before the Lewinsky scandal broke, it was a welcome boost for Clinton. It brought to town a straight-arrow friend who supported him down the line. On most big issues the two governments really do agree. Blair made it clear that British planes would go into battle with the Americans against Iraq, even if they are the only two nations willing to do it.

Blair was asked sharply by British journalists at a joint press conference in Washington whether he thought it was wise to embrace Clinton so publicly. He did not flinch. He said he was backing Clinton because he believed in him and it was the right thing to do. He had found Clinton "someone I could trust, someone I could rely upon, someone I am proud to call not just a colleague but a friend."


With Clinton beside him, coolly swatting away scandal questions with no-comments, Blair stood up under withering British fire. Didn't he think the private life of officials should meet the highest standards? Blair replied, "What is essential is that we focus on the issues we were elected to focus on." What words of advice was he giving Clinton.? He didn't presume to give advice at all, said Blair, and the most important thing was to discuss the big issues of policy. "That's what I intend to do. That's what President Clinton is doing. And I think he's quite right." It was almost a duplicate of the little speech the President has been giving for weeks. No wonder Clinton calls him a friend.

--Reported by Douglas Waller/Washington
In TIME This Week

Cover Date: February 16, 1998

The Press And The Dress
Drip Drip Drip
Behind The Scenes With Monica
Just An Affectionate Guy
Ain't We Got Fun
Time To Off Saddam?
With A Little Help From His Friends
Eyes On The Oval
The Art of the Leak
Inside the Magic Bubble
Give Me a Break!

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