It is common knowledge that US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair telephone each other every day. Therefore, there must be some singularly paramount reason for the two leaders to seek a personal meeting on Wednesday and Thursday in the Camp David country retreat, the American president's residence in Maryland, US.
The explanations given by Blair at a news conference before flying off to the US do not justify a summit at short notice. According to the British premier, discussions at Camp David will deal, first, with Iraq's rehabilitation after Saddam Hussein is toppled. And, second, with examination of ways to restore the US's good relations with Europe badly dented by differences prior to the war.
It goes without saying these are important topics. But what catches the eye is that Blair has resorted to his friend Bush's favourite red herring - he skates over the main problem of the day.
And this problem is that the offensive in Iraq is clearly stalling and getting drawn out. Apart from Saddam Hussein, the American-British coalition is now facing a no less perfidious enemy - the calendar.
With every day of the war, risks of numerous complications grow. The number of casualties among Iraq's civilian population may go beyond a more or less acceptable limit, and anti-American sentiments may engulf the region as a forest fire, and international terrorism may quickly replenish its fanatic ranks. Economists also warn: a protracted war will infect the consumer with uncertainty and push up oil prices, making things still worse for a faltering western economy, especially the American one.
What is more, it will not be long before France and Germany, which Blair already wants to patch up their quarrel with the United States, will shout out while pointing a finger at London and Washington, "We have told you! We have cautioned you!" This is Problem No.1 for the coalition. This is what is going to be raised above all at an emergency meeting of the two leaders at Camp David.
Blair is taking along several versions of why within a week of the war starting, Saddam Hussein did not yet walk out with a white flag to meet American-British divisions.
The strategic operation is not to blame, it is "being pursued as we conceived it," the premier assured the British press before leaving for the US. The snag, in his opinion, lies elsewhere. No wonder that some units of the Iraqi army are fighting so stubbornly, Blair said, for they, these units, "will have nowhere to go with the regime fallen".
And why is the Iraqi people not welcoming the liberators with a gift - a fresh killed lamb? The British premier has an explanation to this too: the mass of the Iraqi people is offended that the West did not live up to their expectations in 1991 and did not bring Desert Storm to a logical conclusion - the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
As we see, Blair is inclined to explain the resistance put up by the country upholding its sovereignty by psychological complexes in Freud's spirit. The iniquity of the aggression from the point of view of human morality, its illegitimacy, to put it mildly, in face of international norms, the doubtful military tactic of the coalition which leaves its rear areas exposed, the two allies' inclination for "friendly fire", when an American Patriot missile shoots down a British Tornado, and two British soldiers die under shots of their own British Challenger tank - these particulars are factored out from the British premier's analysis.
So far, the Americans and the British have not succeeded in setting up a really capable anti-Iraqi coalition legitimate in the eyes of the world community. No body exists at present to coordinate the allied forces, although its establishment was announced by the military command ahead of the invasion of Iraq. As conceived by the Pentagon, these functions were to have been assumed by a coalition coordinating centre under the joint central command of US armed forces in Florida. But this body is still on paper. No representatives of the allied command have arrived to work on it. In the meantime the allied military departments are not hastening, under all sorts of pretexts, to send their representatives to the US, leaving the British and Americans "to reap winners' laurels" and to justify their military setbacks.
But Blair has reason to act perkily.
A government crisis in Britain that jeopardised his political career is more or less petering out. The three ministers, who resigned in protest against the premier's obsession with war, are today remembered by few. Two-thirds of parliamentary Labour deputies who were about to rebel when voting on military resolutions seem to have moderated their passions if not recovered their sense at all.
Besides, Britain is demonstrating the same paradox that is observed in other European countries, let alone the US. When there was a choice between peace and war, a sensible majority advocated peace. When the war broke out, the same majority found that feeding the dove of peace was unpatriotic. As a result, Blair arrives at Camp David on the back of a Guardian poll which has found that 54 per cent of the Britons approve the military campaign in Iraq and only 30 per cent are against it. Literally ten days ago the same feelings were expressed by the 38 to 44 ratio. Indeed,fickle is the British weather.
Blair will also show up at Camp David in the halo of the most reliable and absolutely loyal US ally in the clash with Saddam Hussein. In Iraq, 45,000 British soldiers, sailors and pilots are risking their lives, with 120 tanks, more than 100 aircraft and an impressive British squadron taking part in the campaign.
Special relations between the US and Britain are literally forged of armour these days.
A crowd, however, is always cynical. In the British man of the street's mind, Blair behaves like George W. Bush's "lackey". This word is so overworked by the British press that it has lost its pejorative meaning and has become a kind of impassive statement of the status quo. Things have gone so far that the British watch with pleasure an animated clip by the popular singer George Michael, showing a drawn-up poodle with the face of their respected premier cavorting in the White House lawn.
Blair bears this heresy. He knows that his special allied affinity with Washington seems to raise him above the European hustle and bustle and gives him the status of a truly global politician. The British premier thinks he is a broker between the US and anti-war European capitals. Only he, Tony Blair, like an experienced school tutoress can take both by the hand, make them unclench their fists and gently whisper into their ears: "Now, now, children, make it up at last ..." Blair is not improvising. He is acting according to his clear ideas of a new world system. The concept to which Britain subscribes today throws out the idea of multipolarity and recognises the US's undoubted global superiority. London looks forward to do its modest bit in support of America's "star" role.
What, however, Blair fails to see is that over recent years he has burnt up nearly all bridges linking Britain with Europe.
It is not just a spat with France, Germany and Belgium concerning Iraq. Over the past ten years European Union countries have signed the Maastricht Treaty blessing their closer union, adopted a common currency, and, if anything, are moving towards a common foreign and defence policy.
London's part in these processes is marginal. Britain looks upon Europe from the pedestal of its special relations with the US. Blair's main stake is on the Anglo-American axis.
But what if after the Iraqi war or somewhat later Washington comes to the conclusion that it no longer needs a go-between in the person of the British leader? Isn't London in for a "splendid isolation" in which it has found itself more than once in the 20th century?
After all, lackeys are also replaced. And not always with a notice in writing.
An explosion of household gas occurred in a nine-storeyed apartment building in the city of Shakhty, the Rostov region of Russia. The blast destroyed two storeys of the building