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Britons Look East, Not to US, For Future Ties

BY a margin of four to one, the British believe Europe has supplanted the United States as the most important international influence on the United Kingdom, a new voter survey indicates.

This is a reversal of attitudes of the past two decades, when most Britons believed the US, not Europe, was much more likely to have an impact on their country's policies.

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Despite tension between John Major's government and the Clinton administration over the Bosnian crisis, a poll by the MORI organization of nearly 2,000 Britons revealed that there is little hostility toward the US - only an attitude of "distance and indifference."

The poll's results coincide with what British government officials and London-based foreign policy analysts see as a bumpy time in relations between Europe and the US.

A government official in London speaks of "problems" with the Clinton administration "arising from our conflicting perceptions of what is the best policy for Bosnia." The US has not "followed through" in its attempt to give leadership to its allies in response to Serb advances in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the official says.

Gary McDowell, director of the Institute of United States Studies at London University, thinks that in the light of the MORI findings there is a need to nurture US-British ties.

"At the outset of the Clinton administration, the signal went out from Washington that the relationship was not as important as it used to be," Dr. McDowell says. "Thankfully there are signs - notably the appointment of David Gergen as the White House communications director - that the president is rethinking administration attitudes."

The markedly pro-European temper of most Britons is welcome to the British government, since the domestic debate over Britain's ratification of the Maastricht Treaty on European integration is nearing its climax. A senior Conservative Party parliamentarian says the survey results will "support John Major in his contention that most people want Britain to be at the heart of Europe."

Robert Worcester, chairman of MORI, said that in 1969, 34 percent of Britons believed relations with the US were more important to their country than relations with Europe, which gained a 21 percent rating. The new poll shows that 57 percent prefer the relationship with Europe, 18 percent support the British Commonwealth, and only 15 percent say ties with the US are most important.

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