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The Presidential Visit

Text of Prime Minister Blair's Speech

Today is an important day in the history of the United States, our closest ally. So I want to use my brief remarks to pay tribute to one President, and to congratulate and welcome his successor to the most powerful office in the world.

During the three and a half years I have been Prime Minister, I have worked very hard to ensure that the unique relationship between our countries has been enhanced and strengthened. This is about far more than personal friendship, important though personal friendship is. It is about bonds of kinship and history. It is about a shared language. Most of all it is about shared values, a shared determination to spread peace and prosperity throughout the world.

This will be my last speech together with President Clinton whilst he is in office. Let me sketch out briefly for you my assessment of Bill Clinton's eight years.

He has presided over one of the longest periods of economic growth in America's history which has contributed to our own. He has made his own personal contribution by embracing new ideas and technology, and getting America to see globalisation as an opportunity not a threat.

He has helped bring peace to parts of the World which have been racked by conflict Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo. He has led the way to reconciliation in Korea. He has brought the parties in the Middle East closer to peace than they have ever been before. He has been a friend and partner of successive Russian Presidents, ensuring that stability is ensured even while that great country goes through a difficult transition. He led the world through the storms of the Asian financial crisis.

He can be very proud of his record on the domestic economy. He can be very proud of his record on foreign policy too. Bill Clinton has been a true leader of the Western World, and a friend and counsel to me and many other political leaders.

He also played a hugely significant and insufficiently noticed part in bringing Europe an America to a closer understanding of each other. I never hide the fact that I see Britain's role as America's closest ally and now a leading partner in Europe, to be that of a bridge between the two. I believe stronger with America makes us stronger in Europe. Stronger in Europe and we are a better ally to America. I never believe we need or should choose between the two.

And I believe passionately that whatever differences Europe and America have from time to time, they are dwarfed by vital strategic interests we have in common. More than anyone else, Bill Clinton understood this. More than anyone else, he sought to promote it. For that and much, much else we thank you.

Today, as we say farewell to one President, we welcome another. I have just spoken on the phone to President-Elect Bush to congratulate him, and to underline our commitment to the unique relationship between our two countries. The last five weeks have been difficult for both him and Vice President Gore, for their families and for the American people.

I spoke about Britain's special friendship with America, a friendship which has helped to guarantee our freedom through the last turbulent century. Have absolutely no doubt that it will flourish still further under the Bush Presidency.

President-Elect Bush is a man who shares our values and who wants Europe and America to stand side by side in the world. I know that he will be a friend of Britain, a friend of Europe. A friend of free trade, of new technology, and of solid defence.

The world needs a strong America. The winners from a weak America are usually the bad guys. America is strong today. I know under President-Elect Bush it will continue to be so.

I offer George Bush on behalf of a country proud to call itself America's closest ally, our solid support and unwavering friendship, now and in the future. It is an awesome responsibility that rests on the shoulders of America and of an American President. Britain will be the friend of President Bush and America in discharging that responsibility for the good of America and the world.

President Clinton remains in office for another five weeks. He has wisdom to impart to us now. And I know that he will play a role and carry influence on the world stage long after he steps down from the Presidency.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you the 42nd President of the United States of America, William Jefferson Clinton.