LONDON — President Barack Obama sought to reassure the world today that American and European influence remains as dominant as ever, even as rising powers like China and India assert themselves. To the British Parliament seated at majestic Westminster Hall, Obama declared: "The time for our leadership is now."
"Even as more nations take on the responsibilities of global leadership," Obama said, "our alliance will remain indispensible to the goal of a century that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more just." "After a difficult decade that began with war and ended in recession, our nations have arrived at a pivotal moment once more," he said.
Obama was granted the honor of being the first U.S. president to speak from the grand setting of Westminster Hall, and he received a deeply friendly welcome. He recounted a history between two countries an ocean apart that began in war but grew into an indispensible global force for economic growth, security, democracy and peace.
His speech came not long after Obama joined Prime Minister David Cameron in promising jointly to continue a relentless and punishing campaign against Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Libya, saying there "will not be a let-up" in pressure to force Gadhafi out.
In his appearance before Parliament, Obama talked glowingly about a historically strong partnership with Great Britain.
"The path has never been perfect," he said. "But through the struggles of slaves and immigrants; women and ethnic minorities; former colonies and persecuted religions, we have learned better than most that the longing for freedom and human dignity is not English or American or Western — it is universal."
Obama spoke to both houses of Parliament and British leaders present and past who were gathered in the cavernous 11th century hall where generations of rulers have held coronation banquets and where many others lay in state while awaiting burial.
His address came midway through a four-country European tour during which he's connected with his unlikely Irish roots and enjoyed the hospitality of Queen Elizabeth II even while keeping an eye on events at home where casualties mount from a monster tornado in Missouri.
Today's speech was billed as the centerpiece of the president's tour, and he addressed grave questions of war, peace and economic strain, calling on Britain and the U.S. to meet the challenges together, and more broadly on the world to move toward democracy and universal rights.
"Our idealism is rooted in the realities of history - that repression offers only the false promise of stability; that societies are more successful when their citizens are free; and that democracies are the closest allies we have," the president said.