Last updated: May 24, 2011 10:55 pm

Obama and Cameron to talk tough on Libya


President Barack Obama reviews troops with Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, during an official arrival ceremony at Buckingham Palace

The US and UK are warning that Nato will increase airstrikes against Libya to levels not yet seen during the two month old conflict, as the pageantry of President Barack Obama’s state visit to the UK turns to issues of life and death.

Speaking on a day when Nato aircraft carried out their most intensive attacks on Libyan targets to date, Ben Rhodes, Mr Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said Mr Obama and David Cameron, the UK prime minister, would make clear at a meeting at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday that the alliance would increase pressure on Col Gaddafi still further.

Mr Obama is also due to give a setpiece speech to the two Houses of parliament, where he will discuss the “essential” US-UK partnership, which the White House depicts as “the cornerstone of global security”.

“You’ve seen already a very robust pace of targeting and operations in recent days, including in Tripoli,” said Mr Rhodes, referring to the heaviest strikes yet against Col Gaddafi’s command and control compound. “That sends a very clear message that the pressure is not going to relent, that it’s actually going to increase … We want to underscore to Gaddafi that the foot is not going to come off the gas pedal.”

The US also welcomed the British decision to deploy attack helicopters in Libya – a move that further bolsters the assault but which could open up British personnel to greater risk.

Washington and London are seeking to push back against perceptions that the fighting in Libya has entered a stalemate and Mr Rhodes said that the president and prime minister would also look at more ways of helping the opposition.

The Obama administration and the US Congress are already working on legislation to provide the rebels with $186m from more than $36bn of frozen Libyan government funds under US jurisdiction.

Although some military officials in the UK have expressed concern that Washington has not provided more support for the operation, in which the US now takes a primarily supporting role, behind the UK and France, Mr Rhodes insisted the current US role was “totally in line” with what it had agreed with its allies.

Downing St also suggested that Mr Cameron would not be asking Mr Obama to provide more military aid: “They are already providing significant military assistance,” the spokesman said.

The two men will also discuss Afghanistan, where both countries are looking to make limited troop drawdowns later this year.

Relations between the two leaders have warmed considerably after a cool start: Mr Obama’s initial impression of Mr Cameron in 2008 was that although he had “sizzle” he had less substance than the then Labour prime minister Gordon Brown.

Mr Cameron hopes Mr Obama will say something on the need for tough deficit reduction, which could be read as an endorsement of his own government’s plans – initially viewed by the US administration as dangerously aggressive.

Conservative party officials say that the Obama adminstration’s cuts are now tougher than those planned in London, a fact they cite to rebut Labour’s allegation that cuts to spending go “too far and too fast”. Labour insiders insist that Mr Obama’s deficit plan is not the same as Mr Cameron’s, arguing that the US administration only announced big spending cuts once growth was firmly established.

Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband, met Mr Obama at Buckingham Palace for talks on Tuesday and discussed with the US president the idea of developing “a national mission”, based on the ideals of “progressive” parties. During the 40-minute encounter, Mr Miliband spoke about his concern for the squeezed middle-classes; Mr Obama spoke fondly of his working relationship with Gordon Brown’s Labour government during the 2008/9 financial crash.

The US president’s first day in London was marked by the usual pageantry – including being greeted at Buckingham Palace by the Queen – and a visit to Westminster Abbey and Downing St.

The Obamas also met the newly married Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The Obamas will be staying in the Palace’s Belgian suite – most recently used by the Duke and Duchess on their wedding night. The president’s meeting with Mr Cameron and his wife, Samantha, at Downing Street was cut short when the president and prime minister abandoned ceremonial glamour for a surprise visit to Globe Academy school amid the tower blocks of Southwark, South London.

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