Obama makes 'historic' speech to UK MPs

US president says West must promote "universal freedoms" within context of emerging new world order.

    Obama is the first US president to address the joint houses of parliament [Reuters]

    Barack Obama, the US president, has addressed the British parliament, saying that Western influence remains strong in the world, despite emerging world powers such as China, India and Brazil.

    In a speech to both houses of parliament on Wednesday, Obama said that Western powers still had a responsibility to uphold "universal rights", but stressed that this work must be done through multilateral forums like the G20.

    "Even as more nations take on the responsibilities of global leadership," Obama said, "our alliance will remain indispensable to the goal of a century that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more just."

    He also referred to the global economic crisis saying that it had "begun" on Wall Street, something generally accepted but which US officials have been unwilling to acknowledge.

    Obama's speech is seen as historic as it marks the first time a US president has been afforded the opportunity to speak in the grand setting of Westminster Hall.

    Support for democracy

    Obama began with a joke and recounted a history between the US and Britain that began in a war for independence but grew into a global alliance.

    But his address also touched on contemporary issues important to both nations, including the military action under way in Afghanistan and in Libya and he stressed the importance of Western support for recent pro-democracy uprisings in many countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

    "We do this knowing the West must overcome mistrust and suspicion from many," he told the assembled British legislators.

    "Ultimately freedom must be won by the people themselves, not imposed from without."

    Countries across the Middle East and North Africa have been wracked by pro-democracy protests, buoyed in large part by the successful overthrow of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, the respective former presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, earlier this year.

    Libya has seen similar protests pushing for the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, but remains locked in a stalemate with NATO forces acting under a UN mandate carrying out air raids aimed at protecting civilians.

    Friends and interests

    Patty Culhane, Al Jazeera's correspondent, reporting from outside the houses of parliament, said: "I think it's the clearest he's described his views on the different protests that we see in the Middle East and North Africa.

    "He flat-out said 'we aren't going to apologise for our interests - our interests in fighting global terrorism and ensuring the global oil supply'. That's about the first time we've really heard him spell that out."

    Ahead of his parliamentary address, in a joint press conference with David Cameron, the UK prime minister, Obama said Gaddafi would ultimately step down under pressure from the NATO military operations.

    Concerning Afghanistan, Obama said that the Western alliance there was ready to "turn a corner" with the transition to "an Afghan lead".

    "During this transition, we will pursue a lasting peace with those [Taliban fighters] who break free from al-Qaeda and respect the Afghan constitution and lay down arms," Obama said.

    Official sources from three countries have said that Washington has already begun talks with representatives of the Taliban, although these have been described as preliminary.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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