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U.S., Britain will try to repair "special relationship' gone sour

The special relationship between the United States and Britain, dented by collisions over Bosnia and Northern Ireland, will undergo some repairs next week in the unlikely venue of Pittsburgh.

At President Clinton's invitation, British Prime Minister John Major will join him on a trip to the Monongahela Valley region of Pennsylvania, where Major's grandfather helped build steel-mill blast furnaces in the 1870s. Then the two will return to Washington, where Major will spend a night at the White House _ a rare honor for a foreign head of state.

This special attention comes amid public declarations from the White House and the Major administration that there are no tensions between the two countries.

"It is not a strained relationship," White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers insisted this week. "Any reports to the contrary are . . . simply not true."

But many analysts remain unconvinced, believing that the two leaders are trying to rebuild what _ since the unexpected recent strengthening of U.S.-French ties _ has become the coolest of America's relationships with its major Western European allies.

A warming could help Clinton in Bosnia, where the British have been among the most resistant to U.S. efforts to use the threat of force to bring peace. Signs of new respect from Clinton also could help Major, whose unpopularity in the British Isles, according to one British tabloid, is now exceeded only by that of Olympic ice-dancing judges, who denied gold medals to the British skating team of Jane Torville and Christopher Dean.

The Pittsburgh trip was first suggested by Clinton during a chat between the two men at last summer's meeting of Western industrial nations in Tokyo. Major's grandfather, a master bricklayer named Abraham Ball, worked at the Carnegie mills and others; Major's father, Tom Major, also worked around the Pittsburgh area before moving to England and a career in the circus.

While arrangements are incomplete, the Pittsburgh trip is expected to focus on the economic revitalization of an old-line industrial area that _ like many in England _ has been hard hit by the loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs.

Relations between Clinton and Major once were expected to be good, because both came from humble backgrounds. But earlier this year, one U.S. official described the chemistry between the gregarious Clinton and the stolid Major _ sometimes called "Mister Gray" _ as "non-existent."

While the tensions have received far less attention here, many in the United Kingdom have been alarmed by an apparent series of conflicts.

Clinton's decision to grant a visa to Gerry Adams, leader of the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, provoked angry and hurt reactions from the British. And the president secured Major's agreement to support a NATO ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs only by warning that disunity would weaken the Western Alliance. The two administrations also have been at odds over the plan to gradually expand NATO's membership.