Obama Says Europe Plays Vital Role On World Stage

President Obama told Britain's Parliament Wednesday that Europe has an "indispensible" role to play — promoting freedom and prosperity around the world. That role is on display in Libya, where NATO has taken the lead in battling the forces of Moammar Gadhafi. Both the president and British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to keep up the pressure on Gadhafi to step aside. But Obama stopped short of committing additional U.S. military forces.

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President Obama told Britain's parliament today that Europe has an indispensible role to play promoting freedom and prosperity around the world. That role is on display in Libya where NATO has taken the lead in battling forces of Moammar Gadhafi. Both the president and British prime minister, David Cameron, vowed to keep up the pressure on Gadhafi.

But as NPR's Scott Horsley reports from London, Mr. Obama stopped short of committing U.S. forces.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Mr. Obama is the first American president ever invited to address Parliament in the 900-year-old Westminster Hall. The president called it a great honor, reminding his audience that his Kenyan grandfather once worked as a cook for the British army.

President BARACK OBAMA: I am told that the last three speakers here have been the Pope, her majesty the Queen, and Nelson Mandela, which is either a very high bar or the beginning of a very funny joke.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama acknowledged that presidents and prime ministers can no longer tackle global problems all by themselves the way Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill once did. But he insisted even with the rise of new powers like China, Britain and the rest of Europe still have a vital role to play on the international stage.

President OBAMA: It was the United States and the United Kingdom and our democratic allies that shaped a world in which new nations could emerge and individuals could thrive. And even as more nations take on the responsibilities of global leadership, our alliance will remain indispensible for the goal of a century that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more just.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama wants Europe to shoulder more responsibility for promoting peace and prosperity. That's why in Libya, for example, he's insisted that NATO take the lead rather than the United States. After meeting with the president today, Prime Minister Cameron said NATO forces should be turning up the heat on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Prime Minister DAVID CAMERON (Great Britain): And on Britain's part we will be looking at all of the options for turning up that pressure so that the Libyan people have a chance to decide their own future.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama said time is working against Gadhafi. But having ruled out the use of American ground troops in Libya, he said getting rid of the Libyan leader could be a slow and steady process.

President OBAMA: I think that there may be a false perception that there are a whole bunch of secret super-effective air assets that are in a warehouse somewhere that could just be pulled out and that would somehow immediately solve the situation in Libya. That's not the case.

HORSLEY: Both leaders will be asking their European colleagues to provide more financial support for Middle Eastern reform when they attend the G-8 Summit in France starting tomorrow. Committing to foreign aid is not easy, though, when many European governments are cutting their own budgets. So far, Cameron's government has been more aggressive at cutting spending than Mr. Obama's has. Cameron said each country is different and has to handle finances in its own way.

Prime Minister CAMERON: We may take slightly different paths, but we want to end up in the same place. In the end, there's no national security unless you have economic security.

HORSLEY: Cameron also praised Mr. Obama for what he called a bold and visionary approach to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Like Mr. Obama, Cameron recently traveled to Ireland and found some lessons in the Northern Ireland peace process for resolving even the most intractable conflicts.

Prime Minister CAMERON: When you look at what had to happen in Northern Ireland in order for peace to come about, is there has to be some recognition and understanding on each side of the other side. And that is what we badly need right now in the Middle East. And I think the president's speech has been a good step forward in really helping to make that happen.

HORSLEY: Both Mr. Obama and Cameron said that understanding has to include some recognition by the militant group Hamas of Israel's right to exist.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, London.

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