Together we can show the world - Clinton

President's visit: Special relationship is hailed as model 'for the ties that should bind all democracies'
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Parliamentary Correspondent

President Bill Clinton yesterday buried past strains in his dealings with John Major's government in a ringing reaffirmation of the special relationship between Britain and America.

Addressing MPs and peers in the gilded splendour of the Royal Gallery in the House of Lords, Mr Clinton hailed the "extraordinary relationship" between the two countries.

He announced that a new guided-missile destroyer was to be named the USS Winston Churchill in honour of the alliance, and dwelt on the shared challenge of Bosnia.

Britain and America had a responsibility to answer the request of warring parties to secure peace, he said. "Without our leadership and without the presence of Nato there will be no peace in Bosnia.

"I thank the United Kingdom that has already sacrificed so much for its swift agreement to play a central role in the peace implementation. With this act Britain holds true to its history and to its values. And I pledge to you that America will live up to its history and its ideals as well."

Mr Clinton and his wife Hillary arrived in the Royal Gallery to a fanfare of trumpets. Mr Major, most MPs and many peers were present. In a front row were all three surviving former prime ministers: Baroness Thatcher, Sir Edward Heath and Lord Callaghan.

Recalling visits stretching back to his days as a student at Oxford 20 years ago, the President 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."

Relations between the Government and the Clinton White House have been less warm than with his Republican predecessors. Mr Clinton bitterly resented Conservative help with the George Bush campaign and there have been strains over Washington's early acknowledgement of Sinn Fein.

But yesterday Mr Clinton, in a 26-minute speech, emphasised the two countries' common heritage - though in a light passage he said that when there were difficulties he would walk out on to the Truman balcony of the White House and look at the burn marks left from the siege of Washington by the British, "just to warn myself that I dare not let this relationship get out of hand again".

America and Britain had emerged from the Second World War with the resolve to prevent another like it, he said. They had bound together with other democracies in the West and had stood firm throughout the "long twilight struggle of the Cold War".

Recalling the origins of the special relationship when President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales in 1941, he went on: "Other times and other places are littered with the vows of friendship sworn during war and then abandoned in peacetime. This one stands alone, unbroken, above all the rest, a model for the ties that should bind all democracies."

Turning to Northern Ireland, where he will be today, Mr Clinton said the new twin-track peace initiative provided an opportunity to begin a dialogue in which all views were represented and all views could be heard. "I applaud the Prime Minister for taking this risk for peace. 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."

To loud applause, he insisted: "But it is the right thing to do and in the end the right will win." Mr Major, sitting next to Mrs Clinton, mouthed the words "thank you."

Underlining a continued transatlantic commitment, he said the US would work for a broader peace, supporting a Europe "bound together in a woven fabric of vital democracies, market economies and security co-operation". Nato would remain the "sword and shield" of democracy while helping nations formerly behind the Iron Curtain to become part of the new Europe.

"Nato will grow and expand the circle of common purpose - first through its Partnership for Peace, which is already having a remarkable impact on member countries, and then with the admission of new democratic members." he said.

"It will threaten no one, but it will give its new allies the confidence they need to consolidate their freedoms."