US president and UK prime minister promise to support Arab Spring protesters, by force if necessary, and insist: 'When the United States and Britain stand together, our people and people around the world can become more secure and more prosperous.'
UK-US 'special relationship' is 'essential for world' say Obama and Cameron
LONDON // Volcanic ash and the Anglo-American "special relationship" dominated the first day of Barack Obama's visit to Britain yesterday.
The US president had actually arrived the night before, Air Force One landing in London from Dublin on Monday evening because of fears that ash spewing from the Icelandic volcano could disrupt the flight into Stansted Airport planned for yesterday morning.
After spending the night at the US ambassador's residence in London, Mr Obama and his wife Michelle embarked on a charm offensive aimed as reassuring the British that transatlantic ties were as strong as ever, if slightly different than before.
There have been doubts about the future of the "special relationship", a concept widely cherished in Britain, since Mr Obama took office.
Steve Clemons, from a Washington-based think-tank, the New America Foundation, told the BBC yesterday: "Mr Obama has been incrementally de-emphasising the UK-US relationship as the place to start in the international community, not because Mr Obama doesn't like or appreciate the Brits but because the world is changing and he needs other key stakeholders to feel the love too."
The British prime minister, David Cameron, has also been keen to readjust relations, not least because Tony Blair seemed overly willing to accommodate George W Bush, particularly in regards to Iraq.
So yesterday, Mr Obama and Mr Cameron put their names to an article in The Times that attempted to put Anglo-American links at the heart of the drive for global stability and prosperity. "Ours is not just a special relationship, it is an essential relationship - for us and for the world," they wrote.
The pair also promised to support "Arab Spring" protesters, by force if necessary.
"We will not stand by as their aspirations get crushed in a hail of bombs, bullets and mortar fire," the article said.
"We are reluctant to use force, but when our interests and values come together, we know we have a responsibility to act."
Speaking to US reporters shortly before Mr Obama's premature arrival, Mr Cameron insisted that there was "an incredible alignment of views" between his administration and Mr Obama's on key issues such as the military mission in Libya, the Arab Spring, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He also praised Mr Obama's "courageous" decision over the raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan and described the president's style as "thoughtful, measured and serious".
Today the president and Mr Cameron hold talks in Downing Street and Mr Obama will address a joint session of parliament.
Yesterday was dominated by the ceremonial. But before being formally greeted by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, the Obamas spent 10 minutes in a private chat with the world's most famous newlyweds, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who have just returned from their honeymoon in the Seychelles.
After the queen's welcome in the palace garden, the Obamas were treated to a viewing of the royal picture gallery before a wreath-laying ceremony at Westminster Abbey. This was followed by the state banquet at the palace last evening.
"This visit is one of profound symbolism, at least as far as the British are concerned," one diplomat, speaking on terms of anonymity, said yesterday.
"There seems to be a better personal rapport and a greater understanding of the other's needs between the president and Mr Cameron than there did between the president and Gordon Brown [Mr Cameron's predecessor].
"The message will be that the alliance is, by necessity if nothing else, as strong as ever, though both men know in these changing times that their national interests lie in forging wider, stronger links elsewhere.
"Mr Cameron's government made it clear within days of taking office last year that India, the GCC nations, Turkey, China and Brazil are at the top of its new agenda. One gets the impression that the US would like its dealings with Europe to be more evenly spread across the continent, rather than always putting the UK first."
Nevertheless, the two leaders stressed their common goals and values in their article in The Times. "When the United States and Britain stand together, our people and people around the world can become more secure and more prosperous," they wrote.
"And that is the key to our relationship. Yes, it is founded on a deep emotional connection, by sentiment and ties of people and culture. But the reason it thrives, the reason why this is such a natural partnership, is because it advances our common interests and shared values. It is a perfect alignment of what we both need and what we both believe. And the reason it remains strong is because it delivers time and again."
Transatlantic ties were not the only things on the president's mind, however. Before leaving for the palace, he spoke of his sorrow of the tornado devastation in the Midwest and said he would be visiting Missouri when he returned home on Sunday. "We have been heartbroken by the images we have seen," Mr Obama said. "The devastation is incomparable. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who are suffering at this moment."