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British PM set for key White House talks

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is greeted upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base. (AP)

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived in Washington late Monday for key talks with US President Barack Obama, as the plummeting economy and the Afghanistan conflict looked set to top the agenda.

Brown, who says he wants a "global new deal" to revive the ailing world economy at a summit of 20 leading nations in London next month, landed at a snowy Andrews Air Force base ahead of a meeting on Tuesday, when he will become the first European leader to meet with the president at the White House.

As he left London, Brown was effusive in his praise of the new US leader, who London will look upon to further the so-called "special relationship" between the two countries. "I think the impression he has given of America to the world is transformative, because he is a black man who has won the presidency, who is living in the White House that was built by slaves," said the British leader. "I think people's view of America is changing as a result of that," he told talkSPORT radio hours before leaving for the US capital. Brown said Obama was taking "very difficult" economic decisions. "He is doing similar things to what we are doing in Britain."

The United States and Britain have launched massive economic stimulus packages since the collapse of US subprime home loans sparked a credit crunch that developed into the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression.

In a further sign of protracted crisis there was another bloodbath on the stock markets Monday, after news of another massive bailout for key US insurer AIG and a huge cash call at the London-based banking giant HSBC. Brown has said he wants to use the Washington talks to prepare for the G20 meeting in London on April 2, which is designed to draw up a new blueprint for economic recovery.

He will also give a speech to the US Congress on Wednesday, becoming only the fifth British prime minister to do so. While issues such as global warming, Iran's suspect nuclear program and the Middle East are also likely to loom large in their talks, the economy will dominate the summit. "I think you'll see on the docket tomorrow a longer discussion about the world economy," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday. "It's hard to probably pick up the paper here or in England and not deal with many of the same issues. I also expect things like the security situation in Afghanistan and NATO mission to be part of that as well."

Reforming global financial institutions is likely to be high on the two leaders' priorities. The British premier has said that during his Washington trip he wants to strike a stronger "partnership of purpose" to fight the financial downturn. "We think the time has come to reshape the IMF and the World Bank, and probably the regional development banks come into this as well, reshape them for this century [...] We want to produce some ideas that people can work on," a senior British diplomat said ahead of the talks.

Gibbs added that as Obama has said: "We have to act together in helping to stimulate the economies of the G20 as well as ensuring that there are some financial rules of the road so that we don't find ourselves in the same position a few years down the line." But Brown's spokesman said the trip was also about "strengthening the relationship" between the two men.

They have met several times, most recently when Obama made a brief visit to London last year during his presidential campaign. The leaders are also expected to press for greater help from other countries in fighting the raging insurgency in Afghanistan, although Brown's spokesman refused to be drawn on which nations they had in mind.

As the focus shifts away from Iraq, Obama has already pledged to send 17,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan this year to join 38,000 already there. Britain has 8,500 soldiers in the violence-wracked south of the country.

Brown's predecessor Tony Blair struck up a strong relationship with George W. Bush, and the visit comes at a crucial time for the prime minister as he struggles to gain public support for his domestic stimulus package and huge bank bailouts.

His supporters hope the trip will boost his flagging popularity - the governing Labour Party currently trails the opposition Conservatives ahead of a general election that must take place by mid-2010.