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Special relationship 'resilient'

Warnings that the UK's "special relationship" with America was badly damaged by the House of Commons vote against military intervention in Syria have proved unfounded, MPs said.

Cross-Atlantic links remained "in good health" despite the episode last year, the foreign affairs select committee concluded.

It also applauded the Government for taking a "more hard-headed, less deferential" approach to Washington than its predecessor Labour administrations.

But it criticised the "over hasty" announcement during President Obama's state visit of a new strategic body which appeared to have fallen short of what was promised.

High-profile figures said Britain's international standing has been undermined and Mr Kerry pointedly referred to France as "our oldest ally".

David Cameron ruled out British forces' participation in air strikes against the regime Syrian president Bashar Assad over the use of chemical weapons after losing a vote in August on a motion opening the door to military action.

It sparked a flurry of speculation over the future of the historic relationship - with newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic declaring it badly damaged and The Sun printing a front page "death notice", the report noted.

Speculation was fuelled by apparent sniping by senior US officials.

But the committee said it was satisfied that there was no lasting damage and that in fact the episode had demonstrated the UK's influence as Mr Obama then announced that he would seek Congressional approval for any action.

In the event a Russia-brokered deal to destroy the regime's weapons saw the strike threat withdrawn before being put to the test on Capitol Hill.

"We are not aware of any evidence that the House of Commons vote...against opening the way to potential UK military action in Syria has damaged the UK's relationship with the US," the committee concluded.

"Developments in the UK can and do influence US policy, and that the two countries' positions can diverge in a particular case without harming the underlying tie.

"The UK-US relationship is resilient because of the deep-seated historical, economic and cultural connections between the two countries," it said - as well as the well-established working links at every level."

A 2010 report by the committee called for a "more hard-headed, less deferential" tone to be adopted towards the US, which the latest analysis found had been achieved.

"We are pleased to have been able to conclude that the coalition Government seems to have developed in public a more mature and measured relationship," the MPs said, which showed "greater realism".

It said the regular contact between Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Vice President Joe Biden had proved valuable and recommended that there should always be a specified UK individual to take on that role in future, even if there was no formal position of deputy prime minister.

The MPs played down the consequences for relations of an increased US focus towards the East but noted that there were likely to be differences of priority - with the UK focused on trade with China and other countries and the US on security issues.

They also said they were "disappointment" that the Obama administration continued to take a neutral stance over the UK's long-running dispute with Argentina over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, despite an overwhelming number of islanders saying the wanted to remain British in a referendum.

It was particularly disappointing given the use of other British territories - such as Diego Garcia and Ascension Island - for US military bases.

The MPs were particularly critical of the Government's failure to provide information on the operation of Joint Strategy Board - which was unveiled during te state visit to the UK by the President and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2011.

Number 10 said at the time that it would " enable a more guided, coordinated approach to analyse the 'over the horizon' challenges we may face in the future and also how today's challenges are likely to shape our future choices".

It was due to bring together senior figures from defence, foreign affairs and intelligence on a quarterly basis and be reviewed after a year.

The committee said: "If the JSB has effectively been downgraded to an umbrella framework for ad hoc contacts, dominated by immediate rather than strategic issues, the missed opportunity would be a matter for regret.

"On the evidence available to us, we conclude that the creation of the JSB appears to have been announced over-hastily during President Obama's State Visit to the UK in May 2011, without adequate preparation, and that the Government has been reluctant to acknowledge to us the gap between the impression of the JSB conveyed by the May 2011 announcement of the Board's creation and the reality three years on."

Committee chairman, Tory MP Sir Richard Ottaway, said: "The UK has assets, capabilities and characteristics that US policy-makers value.

"As long as UK Government positions are well-founded, there is little historical evidence that taking a difference stance to the US, or declining to comply with US preferences on special issues, damages the UK Government's relationship with Washington in any long-term way.

"Moreover, having an independent perspective is often a valuable and valued part of what the UK brings to the relationship with the US.

"The Government should take confidence from the value that US policy-makers place on the UK contribution to the relationship, from the deep-seated historical, economic and cultural connections between the two countries, and from the historically proven capacity of the UK-US alliance to endure despite differences on special policy questions."

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