The departure of British Prime Minister Tony Blair raised questions in London and Washington about the future of trans-Atlantic relations. At their summit last weekend, U.S. President George W. Bush and his new British counterpart, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, made it clear that the personnel change would not affect relations between their two countries. The special relationship endures.

Close ties between the U.S. and Britain have been a pillar of 20th-century diplomacy. The two-nation axis ensured that a “trans-Atlantic community” tethered the old world of Europe to the new one in America. In many regards, the Anglo-American alliance was the cornerstone of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a sign of the U.S. commitment to the defense of Europe. This special relationship reflected historical and social ties as well as political and economic links.

Indeed, historic-social ties often insulated against the vicissitudes of great power relations and facilitated the transition to U.S. dominance in the West after World War II. This relationship also provided a benchmark for other countries’ relations with Washington, as Japanese well know, having heard the call for Japan to become “the U.K. of Asia” for nearly a decade.

There were fears that Mr. Blair’s decision to step down as prime minister would hurt the bilateral relationship. While Mr. Blair and Mr. Brown share a vision that embraces many common interests between Britain and the U.S., the former prime minister’s readiness to back Mr. Bush in the invasion of Iraq and the war on terror earned him scorn. Mr. Blair was dismissed as the president’s “poodle,” and the backlash against his policy is widely believed to have forced him to resign in June. Many expected Mr. Brown to distance himself from Mr. Bush to enhance his credibility and distinguish himself from his predecessor.

But in his first trip to the U.S. as prime minister last weekend, Mr. Brown stood alongside Mr. Bush and promised to continue to the close ties that marked Mr. Blair’s term in office. During their press conference, Mr. Brown said he shared Mr. Bush’s views on terrorism and on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While some Britons wanted Mr. Brown to take a harder line against U.S. policy, the interests of the two countries do converge. As Mr. Bush explained in their joint press conference, “We have common interests throughout the world, but it’s an important relationship primarily because we think the same: We believe in freedom and justice as fundamentals in life.” The president may overstate the case — it is hard to find anyone anywhere who does not believe freedom and justice are fundamental — but the larger point is true. Britain and the U.S. are natural allies, with common concerns, interests and values, and their collaboration and cooperation allows them to maximize their assets and accomplish far more than they could alone.

Mr. Brown’s record indicates that his move to No. 10 Downing Street has not forced him to change views about the wisdom of supporting the invasion of Iraq. He may not have been as vocal a proponent of the war as the former prime minister — that was not his job as chancellor of the Exchequer — but there is no record of his opposition. More significant, he is likely to share Mr. Blair’s logic that he will have more influence on U.S. policy working with Mr. Bush than through outright opposition. His readiness to come to Washington, despite pressing domestic problems such as flooding in England, shows that he understands the need to nurture good relations and is prepared to combat even the perception of a new distance between London and Washington.

Mr. Brown demonstrated no inclination to change course on Iran, vowing to press for more sanctions if Tehran refused to comply with international demands for more transparency in its nuclear program. Both he and Mr. Bush also expressed optimism that a deal in global trade talks is still possible.

But differences are evident. While backing the U.S. effort to fight global terrorism, Mr. Brown does not refer to the “war on terrorism.” His comments stress the law enforcement side of the struggle. When pressed, he said he wants to emphasize all means to fight the menace. It has been noted that he named Lord Malloch-Brown minister for Africa, Asia and global nations; the former U.N. deputy secretary general is a vocal critic of the U.S. And while confirming the British commitment to stabilize Iraq, Mr. Brown has not said whether troops will remain there.

When Mr. Bush took office, there was concern that Mr. Blair’s friendship with President Bill Clinton would poison relations with the new U.S. administration. That never happened. Indeed, the two governments became closer than ever. Expect more of the same with Mr. Brown. That should not surprise anyone, given the fundamental interests and values that bind the two countries. That is an important lesson for international relations in a time of extraordinary change.

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