x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Obama tells UK 'special relationship' is alive and well

Libya, Syria and Taliban top agenda for Obama and UK's PM as US president maintains that Nato forces were 'preparing to turn a corner' in Afghanistan and Cameron stresses that Taliban had to make a 'decisive split' with al Qa'eda if a political settlement was to be brokered.

LONDON // Barack Obama reassured the UK that the so-called "special relationship" between the US and UK was alive and well, describing it as "one of the oldest and one of the strongest alliances the world has ever known".

The US president was speaking to an of audience members of both Houses of Parliament in a speech at the 900-year-old Westminster Hall, crowded not only with MPs and lords, but also former prime ministers Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Sir John Major.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Obama made only brief reference to the Iraeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that the US and Britain were "united in our support" for a secure Israel and a sovereign Palestine.

"After years of conflict, the United States has removed 100,000 troops from Iraq, the United Kingdom has removed its forces and our combat mission there has ended.

"In Afghanistan we have broken the Taliban's momentum and will soon begin a transition to Afghan [leadership].

"And nearly 10 years after 9/11, we have disrupted terrorist networks and dealt al Qa'eda a huge blow by killing its leader Osama bin Laden," Mr Obama said.

"As new threats spread across borders and oceans, we must dismantle terrorist networks and stop the spread of nuclear weapons, confront climate change and combat famine and disease.

"And as a revolution races through the streets of the Middle East and North Africa, the entire world has a stake in the aspirations of a generation that longs to determine its own destiny."

Earlier Mr Obama and David Cameron first cooked burgers together yesterday and then jointly roasted Libya, Syria and the Taliban's links with al Qa'eda.

The president and prime minister manned the barbecue, cooking sausages and burgers, while their wives, Michelle and Samantha, served side dishes in the Downing Street garden in an unusual lunch for 150 US and British military families.

On the second day of the president's three-day state visit to the UK, the pair each came up with very similar recipes for solving some of the world's great ills.

At a press conference in London following bilateral discussions yesterday morning, Mr Obama maintained that Nato forces were "preparing to turn a corner" in Afghanistan.

He said that he and Mr Cameron "affirmed the importance of beginning the transition to an Afghan lead for security this year and completing that transition by 2014".

The president added: "We discussed the opportunity that exists for promoting reconciliation and political settlement, which must be an Afghan-led process.

"President Karzai has made it clear he will talk to anyone who is willing to end the violence, split with al Qa'eda and accept the Afghan constitution."

Mr Cameron stressed that the Taliban had to make a "decisive split" with al Qa'eda if a political settlement in Afghanistan was to be brokered.

The prime minister also praised the US operation against Osama bin Laden, describing it as a "strike right at the heart of international terrorism".

On Libya, Mr Cameron would not be drawn on whether Britain would join France in sending attack helicopters to the front line but both he and Mr Obama insisted that there was no future for the country while Colonel Muammar Qaddafi remained in power. He said both the UK and US were looking at "all options" for "turning up the heat" on the regime.

"Qaddafi and his regime need to understand there will be no let-up in the pressure we are applying," said Mr Obama.

"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."

Mr Obama also praised the courage of Syrians peacefully opposing President Bashar al Assad's regime.

He added: "The United States welcomes the EU's decision to impose sanctions on President Assad and increasing pressure on him and his regime in order to end his policy of repression and begin the change people seek."

Mr Obama also said that he and Mr Cameron had discussed Yemen and "expressed their joint concern at the deteriorating situation on the ground".

More generally, Mr Cameron urged the international community to seize the "once in a generation moment" to support pro-democracy movements in the Middle East.

He added that he would push for a "major programme" of political and economic support for reformist governments in the region at this week's G8 summit in France.