Hailing 'special relationship,' Clinton wins over Parliament President praises peacemakers, affirms U.S. role in Europe


LONDON -- President Clinton reaffirmed America's special relationship with Great Britain yesterday and won over one of the world's toughest political audiences in the process.

In a quiet, reverent speech before both houses of Parliament on the first day of his European trip, the president hailed the U.S.- British relationship as "extraordinary." He reasserted America's leadership role in Europe, vowed to maintain peace in Bosnia and embraced renewed peace efforts in Northern Ireland.

Standing beneath the gold chandeliers of the Royal Gallery at the Palace of Westminster, he said: "Always I have felt the power of this place, where the voices of free people who love liberty, believe in reason, and struggle for truth have for centuries kept your great nation a beacon of hope for all the world."

The applause was loud, the reviews thumbs-up.

"Extremely good. I was very impressed," said Conservative politician John Redwood, who usually takes his American political cues from House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"This was very special," said Michael Mates, the former minister of state for Northern Ireland. "Quite the most meaningful speech I've heard from an American president here. It wasn't just a series of platitudes. The president spoke from the heart."

Mr. Clinton quoted Churchill and Milton and nearly brought down the house when he announced that a new guided missile destroyer would be christened the USS Winston Churchill. He dredged up memories of two world wars in which the United States and Britain fought as allies. Mostly, he came to praise the peacemakers -- in Bosnia and in Northern Ireland.

The two problems had divided the Clinton administration and its British counterpart, leading to a breach last summer in the so-called "special relationship." It got so bad that Mr. Clinton and Prime Minister John Major couldn't manage a telephone call, and the president was one of the few world leaders to skip Britain's ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of V-E Day.

The rift has been bridged.

"After so much success together, we know that our relationship with the United Kingdom must be at the heart of our striving in this new era," the president said.

In Bosnia, the British are preparing to beef up their peacekeeping force to augment the 20,000 U.S. soldiers that Mr. Clinton is preparing to send to the Balkans under NATO command.

"We know that if we do not participate in Bosnia, our leadership will be questioned and our partnerships will be weakened -- partnerships we must have if we are to help each other in the fight against the common threats we face," Mr. Clinton said. "We can help the people of Bosnia as they seek a way back from savagery to civility. And we can build a peaceful, undivided Europe."

On Northern Ireland, the United States is backing the British and Irish governments' new, "twin track" approach to restart peace negotiations. Under the plan, an international body headed by former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine will make recommendations on the issue of decommissioning paramilitary groups' weapons. Meanwhile, preliminary talks will begin between Protestant Loyalists and Roman Catholic Unionists, with formal talks scheduled for late February.

Both Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, and David Trimble, head of the main Ulster Unionist Party, have labeled the deal "a fudge."

But the president praised the plan and Mr. Major.

"I applaud the prime minister for taking this risk for peace," Mr. Clinton said. "It is always a hard choice, the choice for peace, for success is far from guaranteed. And even if you fail, there will be those who resent you for trying. But it is the right thing to do. And in the end, the right will win."

The audience applauded.

Mr. Clinton made quite a start on his abbreviated European tour, tearing through London after bounding off a red-eye Air Force One flight from Washington.

He laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey, met for two hours with Mr. Major, held a news conference, gave the speech before Parliament. He had tea with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. He met Mr. Blair, leader of Britain's opposition Labor Party. He appeared at a U.S. Embassy reception and attended a black-tie dinner with Mr. Major at the prime minister's 10 Downing St. residence.

Today, the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will go to Northern Ireland, where they will tour factories, town squares and community centers before spending the night at the Europa Hotel in Belfast, the world's most bombed hotel.

But the 15-month cease-fire has brought changes.

"I will have the privilege of being the first American president to visit Northern Ireland," Mr. Clinton said, "a Northern Ireland where the guns are quiet and the children play without fear."

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