Gordon Brown has held surprise talks with President George W. Bush in what is the first formal meeting between the two.
The chancellor, who is in Washington this weekend for the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund, met the US leader for nearly 45 minutes in private, British officials confirmed on Friday night.
It is understood that they discussed a range of international issues, believed to have included Iraq and Afghanistan – key areas of foreign policy that usually fall within the prime minister’s remit.
UK Treasury officials said the meeting took place during a break in the IMF programme and that it included discussion of world trade liberalisation, part of the formal agenda for finance ministers.
News of the talks will cement expectations at home and abroad that Mr Brown is almost certain to succeed Tony Blair, who is expected to set a date for his resignation as prime minister in early May.
Although the meeting was said not to have been planned, there had been behind-the-scenes speculation in Whitehall that the two men might soon meet. Downing Street was aware of the talks.
A senior Treasury official said Mr Bush had “dropped in” on a meeting between Mr Brown and Stephen Hadley, the president’s national security adviser, during a series of bilaterals. The chancellor also met Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Edward Kennedy, the senator.
Mr Brown and Mr Bush had not previously met face-to-face and a question mark has hung over the kind of personal relationship the chancellor could have with the US president, who has been close to Mr Blair.
The chancellor is known to be strongly pro-American and to want Britain to emulate US economic success and productivity growth.
The talks may be taken as confirmation that Mr Brown, should he become prime minister, is keen to continue a strong relationship with Mr Bush while he remains in the White House.