Downing Street denies Obama snub

Downing Street has today insisted that US President Barack Obama’s friendship with Gordon Brown remains “as strong as ever”, and that there were “perfectly reasonable” explanations for the 5 occasions on which he failed to meet the Prime Minister during his recent visit to New York.

Number 10 insisted claims that requests for one-to-one talks had been rebuffed were “completely without foundations” and that on each occasion the President was able to offer “a reasonable explanation” for his absence.

A spokesman for Mr. Brown said earlier: “We’re not denying the fact that Mr. Obama met with both the Indian and Chinese leaders during the Prime Minister’s visit. But what you have to bear in mind was that they had visited the US with the specific intention of seeing the President. Mr. Brown just happened to be in the area and was attempting to arrange a meeting between the two on the off-chance that the President was free. It just so happened that on those 5 occasions Mr. Obama was otherwise engaged.

“For instance, on the first occasion Mr. Brown had an hour or two of spare time one afternoon and decided to see if Mr. Obama fancied meeting up for a drink or two to catch up, as it had been several months since they last met. Unfortunately, some friends of the President were away on holiday and he had promised to go round and feed their dog, so he couldn’t meet the Prime Minister that afternoon, but if he tried calling later he’d definitely be up for arranging something sometime.

“So later that evening Mr. Brown tried calling the President as planned, but unfortunately he had gone to dinner with the Vice President and was told that he wouldn’t be back until gone midnight. It appeared that Mr. Obama had forgotten he was going out that evening and that he had inadvertently double-booked, though I must stress that nothing was formally arranged between the two at this point and that the Prime Minister was ringing on the off-chance of an impromptu meeting.”

On the third occasion Mr. Brown succeeded in arranging a meeting with Mr. Obama on another evening, though the President told him that he would be at a party beforehand and any meeting would be dependent on how soon he could get away. He told the Prime Minister it would probably be best if he waited outside in his car. “Mr. Obama said he didn’t really want to go to that party and that he would get out of it as soon as he could,” said the spokesman. “So Mr. Brown waited outside as arranged, but after several hours had passed it became clear that the President was probably tied up and finding it difficult to get away. Just after midnight he went into the house to see if he could find him, though after asking around he was told that Mr. Obama had already gone home as he’d had a fair bit to drink. Although this was slightly upsetting for the Prime Minister, he knew that the President had attended this party out of politeness and that, again, nothing was formally arranged between the two.”

The next time Mr. Brown tried to meet up with the President he was told that Mr. Obama was staying at home as he was expecting a call from an old friend who was due in town that evening. When the Prime Minister enquired whether he could pop over “for an hour or two” he was advised that it “was probably best not to”, due to the fact that Mrs. Obama currently had “a headache” and that she didn’t want “people traipsing in and out”. Mr. Brown was informed that the voices and laughter he could hear in the background were coming from a film which the President was in the middle of watching and that this was the reason Mr. Obama was unable to answer the call in person.

Three days later, just before he was due to catch his flight home, Mr. Brown telephoned the White House for a final time to see if Mr. Obama wished to meet for a “quick coffee” before setting off later that afternoon. He was told that the President would “call him back in a few moments” and that he “would be keen to see you [before you] go”. The Prime Minister waited at the airport until the last possible moment before boarding, but sadly Mr. Obama didn’t manage to return his call as he was busy “making preparations” for a round of golf with French President Nicholas Sarkozy at the time.

“Mr. Brown kept checking his mobile phone as he was concerned about the level of signal he was getting at the airport,” said the spokesman. “The reception was good, even in the departure lounge, and it never went below 3 bars at any time. The Prime Minister reasoned that the fault must have lied with his service provider, because none of his recent text messages seemed to be getting any replies. Just before he boarded the plane he checked his voicemail a final time in case he had lost reception in the tunnel, but unfortunately there were still no messages.”

The Prime Minister is said to have “thoroughly enjoyed” his trip and that it was “a great shame” he was unable to meet with Mr. Obama this time around, although a White House spokesman did assure Mr. Brown that the President would definitely try and arrange something for early next year or at least sometime before next summer, diary-permitting.

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