NEW YORK: It is a visit like no other. It is the talk of the town. It's the moment the president himself has talked excitedly about.
No, no not the arrival stateside of Gordon Brown. The Pope is in town.
Hours after the pontiff was greeted by George Bush and cheering crowds in Washington, the prime minister slipped into New York almost unnoticed. Like so many visitors to this city he may well struggle to get noticed
Congressman Mark Steven Kirk, an Anglophile who's a member of the UK/US caucus, told me that “He's unlucky… the Pope has removed all of the oxygen from the system.”
So much so that when CBS news ran an interview with the prime minister this week they felt the need to remind their viewers who he was telling viewers that "He's known as the stern Scotsman who rarely smiles. For a decade Gordon Brown was the serious partner in an unlikely political pairing while the affable Tony Blair served as prime minister…”
Now Americans certainly know who HE is. Our man in Washington for much of the time Blair was prime minister was Sir Christopher Meyer who says that “Gordon Brown didn't open his account when he first travelled to see George W. in a particularly successful or auspicious way. So the ambassador in Washington I think will have to work hard, much harder than I ever had to do… because he (Blair) was self-selling… Gordon Brown I think will need some more work."
British officials are trying hard to hide their disappointment that the prime minister is not so much sharing the stage with the pontiff as being shoved into the wings. No, they say, THEY didn't know about the clash when the White House suggested the date for their man's visit.
However, they insist, headlines are far from the only test of this trip. What matters is this message which Gordon Brown has brought with him telling CBS that "European nations want a better relationship with America and I feel I can bring Europe and America closer together for the future. And that's going to be to the advantage of all of us."
That sounds like a Brown-ite version of that Blair-ite offer to be a bridge between Europe and America. A bridge destroyed by the war in Iraq. Brown senses that whether this country plumps for John McCain, Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton - all of whom he'll meet on Thursday - there will be a desire for America to re-engage with the world on climate change, global poverty and much besides.
Simon Rosenberg of the influential New Democrat Network agrees. He told me that "Gordon Brown is being very smart. I think he understands that he'll have an opportunity to help, and shape and guide and really influence the next American president.”
Gordon Brown will press his case for the reform of institutions like the UN, and the World Bank and the IMF to cope with the new challenges of the new world. On Friday he will set out a foreign policy vision with echoes of the young President Kennedy in a lecture which his advisers have dubbed “A letter to America”. Congressman Kirk told me that he sees a fundamental problem with that. “You can't write a letter to America unless Americans know who you are” he says before adding “at this point they don't know who he is. This prime minister has an extremely low profile in the United States. He hasn't done or said anything that the American public have noticed too much.”
Thanks to the Pope and the president of South Korea who's here this week too, few Americans will learn who Gordon Brown is on this visit. Never mind, a prominent Brit has got the place pretty much to himself next week. In fact, he'll be being given an award for his services to transatlantic relations. His name (don't tell Gordon) is Tony Blair.
This is a version of my report on the Today programme this morning.