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Obama to world: West leadership role still strong

By Nancy Benac

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, May 25 2011 2:21 p.m. MDT

President Barack Obama, escorted by John Bercow, left, Speaker of the House of Commons, and Helen Hayman, Lord Speaker of the House of Lords, walks into Westminster Hall to address members of both Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, May 25, 2011.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

LONDON — Offering reassurance and resolve, President Barack Obama stood in the historic grandeur of Westminster Hall and served notice to England and the world that the growing influence of countries like China, India and Brazil in no way dictates a diminished global role for America and its European allies.

"The time for our leadership is now," Obama declared to members of Parliament, who for the first time gave an American president the honor of addressing them from the 900-year-old hall where great and gruesome moments in British history have played out.

"If we fail to meet that responsibility, who would take our place, and what kind of world would we pass on?" the president asked.

Tracing an arc from the allied soldiers who fought on the beaches of Normandy to the NATO-backed rebels now fighting in Benghazi, Libya, Obama argued that only the Western allies have the might and fortitude to promote and defend democracy around the globe.

Obama's message that U.S. and Europe remain vital on the world stage is one he is sure to carry with him as he heads next to Deauville, France, for a two-day summit of the world's top industrial nations. In addition to pressing economic matters, leaders will focus there, too, on how to support democracy in the Middle East and North Africa in a time of upheaval and economic strains.

In London, Obama urged patience in Libya and with the ongoing war in Afghanistan. He also renewed his determination to push for peace in the Middle East and voiced confidence that democratic stirrings ultimately would prevail there and in North Africa as Western allies stand fast.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his regime "need to understand that there will not be a let-up in the pressure that we are applying," Obama said at a news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron earlier in the day. "I think we will ultimately be successful."

Obama's vision of a relevant and revitalized U.S.-European partnership was a welcome message for Western allies who at times have displayed nervousness that the president has focused on the growing influence of Asia at their expense.

"It was wonderful to have the president here offering such a clear and unambiguous reaffirmation of our relationship," said British Education Secretary Michael Gove, a key ally of Cameron.

Opposition Labor Party legislator Rachel Reeves tweeted after the 35-minute speech: "Feeling uplifted and proud."

Addressing British lawmakers in an august setting, Obama leavened the formality of the occasion by speaking with warmth and humor, and his remarks went over well.

He spoke of the inspiration that "rabble-rousing" American colonists drew from their English forebears and invoked revered British leader Winston Churchill not once, but five times. Taking note that Westminster Hall's previous speakers had been the queen, the pope and Nelson Mandela, Obama joked that that trio represented "either a very high bar or the beginning of a very funny joke."

The president marveled that he stood before the lawmakers as "the grandson of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the British Army."

Mindful of the economic concerns that are predominant both in the United States and Europe, Obama argued that rather than fear Asia's rising influence, "we should welcome this development, for it has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty around the globe, and created new markets and opportunities for our own nations."

AP's Global Economy Tracker shows that the fastest-growing countries — China, India, Indonesia — are all in the developing world. The slowest are all European: Spain, Italy and Britain. The United States ranks 12th.

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