LONDON -- President Barack Obama stood in the historic grandeur of Westminster Hall and served notice to Britain and the world that the growing influence of countries like China, India and Brazil does not mean a diminished global role for America and its European allies.
"The time for our leadership is now," Obama declared to members of Parliament, who for the first time gave an American president the honor of addressing them from the 900-year-old hall.
"If we fail to meet that responsibility, who would take our place, and what kind of world would we pass on?" the president asked.
Tracing an arc from the allied soldiers who fought on the beaches of Normandy to the NATO-backed rebels now fighting in Libya, Obama argued that only the Western allies have the might and fortitude to promote and defend democracy around the globe.
Obama is sure to carry that message with him as he heads next to Deauville, France, for a two-day summit of the world's top industrial nations.
Obama urged patience in Libya and with the war in Afghanistan. He also renewed his determination to push for peace in the Middle East and voiced confidence that democratic stirrings would prevail there and in North Africa as Western allies stand fast.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his regime "need to understand that there will not be a let-up in the pressure that we are applying," Obama said at a news conference with Prime Minister David Cameron earlier in the day.
Obama's vision of a relevant and revitalized U.S.-European partnership was a welcome message for Western allies who at times have displayed nervousness that the president has focused on the growing influence of Asia at their expense. "It was wonderful to have the president here offering such a clear and unambiguous reaffirmation of our relationship," said Education Secretary Michael Gove, a key ally of Cameron.
Opposition Labor Party legislator Rachel Reeves tweeted after the 35-minute speech: "Feeling uplifted and proud."
Obama leavened the formality of the occasion with warmth and humor, and his remarks went over well.
He spoke of the inspiration that "rabble-rousing" American colonists drew from their English forebears and invoked Winston Churchill not once, but five times. Taking note that Westminster Hall's previous speakers had been the queen, the pope and Nelson Mandela, Obama joked that that trio represented "either a very high bar or the beginning of a very funny joke."