U.S. President Barack Obama has reaffirmed the importance of Washington's cooperation with the United Kingdom and Europe -- telling both houses of the British Parliament that trans-Atlantic partnerships remain the cornerstone of U.S. engagement with the world, even as Washington seeks to strengthen its ties with emerging powers like China and India.
In a foreign-policy speech billed by the White House as the centerpiece of his four-country, six-day tour of Europe, Obama said the United States and its allies had arrived at a "pivotal moment in history" because of "rapid changes" and "challenges" taking place around the world -- from economic crises, terrorism, and climate change to the Arab uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.
"These challenges come at a time when the international order has already been reshaped for a new century. Countries like China, India, and Brazil are growing by leaps and bounds. 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," Obama said.
But he added that even as "this rapid change has taken place, it has become fashionable in some quarters to question whether the rise of these nations will accompany the decline of American and European influence around the world. Perhaps, the argument goes, these nations represent the future and the time for our leadership has passed. That argument is wrong."
Obama's remarks were the first-ever address by a U.S. president to both houses of the British Parliament at Westminster Hall -- an address that he said celebrated the shared values and traditions of the United States and the United Kingdom.
Earlier today, Obama met with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, where the two leaders reaffirmed their cooperation on key international issues like the war in Afghanistan, NATO's operations against Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi's regime, and support for pro-democracy demonstrators in Arab countries.
Obama pledged to continue increasing pressure on Qaddafi's regime -- predicting success for NATO air strikes and calling for Qaddafi to step down from power.
Obama and Cameron said they also had agreed on policies related to Afghanistan and Arab-uprising countries. Cameron announced that both the United States and Britain will push at a May 26 Group of Eight (G8) meeting in Paris for a "major program of economic and political support" for people who are "working for freedom" across the Arab world.
"So the president and I are agreed we will stand with those who work for freedom. This is the message we will take to the G8 tomorrow when we push for a major program economic and political support for those countries seeking reform," Cameron said.
"And this is why we mobilize the international community to protect the Libyan people from Colonel Qaddafi's regime, why we will continue to enforce UN resolutions with our allies, and why we restate our position once more: It is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi still in power. He must go."
Backing Arab Democracy
Obama said both the United States and Britain were committed to doing everything they can "to support peoples who reach for democracy and leaders who implement democratic reform."
"We will continue to strongly oppose the use of violence against protesters and any efforts to silence those who yearn for freedom and dignity and basic human rights," Obama said.
"That's one of the reasons that we are working together in Libya alongside with our NATO allies and partners to protect the Libyan people and we will continue those operations until Qaddafi's attacks on civilians cease. Time is working against Qaddafi and he must step down from power and leave Libya to the Libyan people."
Obama said the two reaffirmed the importance of turning over security operations in Afghanistan to the Afghan government by the end of 2014.
"During our discussions today we reviewed our progress in Afghanistan, where our brave servicemen and women have fought side by side to break the Taliban's momentum and where we're preparing to turn a corner," Obama said.
"We reaffirmed the importance of beginning to transition to Afghan lead for security this year and completing that transition by 2014. We discussed the opportunity that exists for promoting reconciliation and political settlement, which must be an Afghan-led process."
There is keen interest in Britain over U.S. plans to withdraw forces from Afghanistan. Obama is expected to announce the first phase of the withdrawal within weeks, and British military officials have said they will support whatever Obama decides. Britain has some 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, second only to the 100,000 U.S. forces there.
Obama said that he and Cameron also had talked about their concerns over brutal government crackdowns against protesters who are demanding democratic reforms in Syria and Yemen.
He reiterated his call for Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave office. "We also discussed the situation in Syria, where there Syrian people have shown great courage in their demands for a democratic transition," Obama said. "The United States welcomes the EU's decision to impose sanctions on President Assad and we're increasing pressure on him and his regime in order to end his policy of repression and begin the change that people seek."
In Moscow, the Kremlin issued a statement warning that this week's G8 summit in Paris should not be used as a platform for "instigating pressure and sanctions" against Arab regimes that are partners with Moscow.
The statement signaled that Russia is likely to be a discordant voice at the summit in Paris. Moscow continues to oppose sanctions and the use of force against its Soviet-era ally Syria and other bilateral partners.
based on agency reports