WASHINGTON Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday he would be hard-headed and realistic about Britain's treasured alliance with the United States, arguing both sides must also build ties elsewhere to maintain influence.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal ahead of a meeting with President Barack Obama, Cameron said Britain was clearly junior to its "oldest and staunchest ally" but should behave in a way that reflected a country clear in its views and values.
Cameron's first trip to Washington as prime minister has been overshadowed by a U.S. backlash against British oil giant BP following the Gulf Coast spill and speculation over the firm's influence in the release of the Lockerbie bomber.
Some commentators have argued that those concerns and a difference in opinion between Europe and the United States over when to cut soaring government borrowing has strained a "special relationship" that is key to Britain's global standing.
"The U.S.-UK relationship is simple: It's strong because it delivers for both of us," Cameron said. "The alliance is not sustained by our historical ties or blind loyalty. This is a partnership of choice that serves our national interests."
Cameron, in power since in May, has indicated his new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition will approach the relationship pragmatically -- working together on common areas without wanting to appear too slavish to American interests.
While he is expected to defend BP during his visit, Cameron said he disagreed with the decision to allow the terminally-ill Libyan convicted of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight to return home from a Scottish prison last year.
"I never saw the case for releasing him, and I think it was a very bad decision," he said.
Lockerbie and BP aside, Cameron wants both nations to make progress on exit strategies for Afghanistan and getting the global economy back on track.
A changing global environment, in which nations such as China are challenging Western economic supremacy, has transformed British foreign policy priorities and put more emphasis on seeking business and influence in emerging markets.
Cameron will visit Turkey and India after his two-day trip to Washington and New York.
"In a world of fast-growing, emerging economies, we have a responsibility to engage more widely and bring new countries to the top table of the international community," he said.
"To do so is pro-American and pro-British, because it's the only way we will maintain our influence in a changing world."
Much attention in Britain will be paid to how well the two leaders get on in Washington, with every pose, smile and word -- and even the location of the leaders' press conference -- scrutinized to calculate what Obama really thinks of the Brit.
"This sort of Kremlinology might have had its place in interpreting our relations with Moscow during the Cold War," Cameron said. "It is absurd to apply it to our oldest and staunchest ally."