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Obama Heralds US/UK Exceptionalism in Address to British Parliament

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- In a rare speech by a foreign leader to the British Parliament in Westminster Hall, President Obama heralded what might be called American/British exceptionalism, in terms of how both countries have evolved and grown, and how the United States and United Kingdom are the only world superpowers trying to help other peoples do so.

The shared ideals show that "it's possible for the sons and daughters of former colonies to sit here as members of this great Parliament," the president said, referring to the Members of Parliament of Indian, Pakistani, and African descent, "and for the grandson of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the British Army to stand before you as President of the United States."

The president said that the two nations, unlike most others, "do not define citizenship based on race or ethnicity. Being American or British is not about belonging to a certain group. It's about believing in a certain set of ideals -- the rights of individuals and the rule of law."

In a veiled criticism of emerging superpowers such as India and China, the president said that "Americans and British have always believed that the future of our children and grandchildren will be better if other people's children and grandchildren are more prosperous and free -- from the beaches of Normandy, to the Balkans to Benghazi. That is our interest and our ideal. And if we fail to meet that responsibility, who would take our place?"

Customarily only monarchs address both Houses of Parliament in the Hall, originally built in 1097 under William II (Rufus), the son of William the Conqueror. President Obama was only the fourth foreign leader since World War II to speak in Westminster, following the Pope in September 2010, Nelson Mandela in 1996, and Charles de Gaulle in 1960.

"I'm told the last three speakers here have been The Pope, Her Majesty the Queen, and Nelson Mandela," the president said at the beginning of his speech, "which is either a very high bar or the beginning of a very funny joke."

The president arrived Wednesday at the Sovereign's Entrance of the Palace of Westminster and was met by Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod and Lord Great Chamberlin, and given a tour of Parliament. He spoke before a crowd of 1,600, including 1,400 from the Houses of Commons and Lords, and 200 invited guests.

The president cited the NATO campaign in Libya as an example of their shared values, telling the crowd that "it would have been easy at the outset of the crackdown in Libya to say that none of this was our business -- that a nation's sovereignty is more important than the slaughter of civilians within its borders. That argument carries weight with some. But we are different. We embrace a broader responsibility."

He pledged to "not relent until the people of Libya are protected, and the shadow of tyranny is lifted."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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