Britain's prime minister to visit Washington this week

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will hold talks with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington later this week and they will likely focus on the future withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq, officials said Monday. Blair will arrive in Washington "at the end of the week," his official spokesman said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy.

The spokesman said he could not confirm the precise date of the visit because of security concerns. Bush will host a dinner before the two leaders hold a joint news conference, a spokeswoman for the prime minister's Downing Street office said. Blair was in Iraq on Monday to support the country's new government. During his visit to Baghdad, Blair said coalition troops are in now a position to begin the process of handing over control of some Iraqi provinces to local security forces.

But Blair refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of the 8,000 British troops and said their return home will be governed by conditions on the ground and by the readiness of Iraqis to assume security responsibilities. Blair's official spokesman said the prime minister is in regular contact with Bush about "Iraq and a whole series of other issues."

He said the visit to Washington would allow the two men to hold face-to-face discussions on the topics.

Blair will also give a foreign policy speech in Washington, focussing on the role of international institutions in modern society, his Downing Street office said. The speech, the third in a series of three delivered in recent months, will advocate Blair's doctrine of interventionist diplomacy and discuss potential reform of the United Nations. Blair believes the United Nations needs to become more accountable to member states and his speech is also likely to discuss the role of the Geneva-based World Trade Organization, his office said, reports the AP.

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