Tony Blair to accept top US medal in George Bush's last week in office

Former PM to receive United States's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Tony Blair is to receive the United States's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from his friend George Bush next Tuesday, at a White House ceremony during the latter's last week in office.

The medal, a five-pointed white star, was first introduced by President Harry Truman just after the second world war and later revived to reward eminent citizens for distinguished service in peacetime by president John F Kennedy.

Although among its previous 400 recipients there are American figures such as Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye and Arnold Palmer, it has also been presented to every post-war president and to senior politicians and military men.

The medal is awarded "for especially meritorious contributions to security or the national interests of the United States, world peace or cultural or other significant public or private endeavours". It was not immediately clear last night under which heading the former prime minister had qualified. He is only the second British prime minister to receive the award, following Margaret Thatcher in 1991, though other recipients have included Lord Carrington, the former foreign secretary, and Lord Robertson, former defence secretary and secretary general of Nato.

Blair will find himself among others he will recognise. Donald Rumsfeld received the medal in 1977 for his original period in administration service; vice-president Dick Cheney got his in 1991; and President Bush has previously awarded other prominent figures involved in the Iraq campaign - Paul Bremer, the US's former director in Baghdad, General Tommy Franks, and George Tenet, former director of the CIA.

Blair was previously also awarded the US's other highest civilian honour, the Congressional Gold Medal, in 2003, for his support of the US invasion of Iraq, though he has never collected it.

He will receive next week's award alongside John Howard, the former Australian prime minister, and Álvaro Uribe, the president of Colombia. A White House spokeswoman said the three were being honoured by the president "for their efforts to promote democracy, human rights and peace abroad".

The award was criticised by the Lib Dems, but Blair's spokesman said he regarded the medal as reflecting the courage of the British armed forces.


Stephen Bates

The GuardianTramp

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