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Obama backs Cameron's call for reformed EU membership

US President Barack Obama expresses support for British PM David Cameron's approach on eurozone issue

AFP , Monday 13 May 2013
Obama, Cameron
U.S. President Barack Obama and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron hold a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, May 13, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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President Barack Obama on Monday endorsed Prime Minister David Cameron's Europe strategy, as his guest faces a rebellion from within his Conservative Party on whether to pull Britain out of the EU.

While stressing that it was up to Britons to decide their own fate, Obama strikingly backed Cameron's plan to seek to renegotiate Britain's membership in the bloc, before holding an in-out referendum, after talks at the White House.

"I will say this, that David's basic point that you probably want to see if you can fix what's broken in a very important relationship before you break it off makes some sense to me," Obama said at a press conference with Cameron.

Obama, who has previously called for a strong Britain, within a strong EU, said that he understood any talks on reframing the country's position within the grouping would be long and complex.

"So long as we haven't yet evaluated how successful those reforms will be. I at least would be interested in seeing whether or not those are successful before rendering a final judgment," Obama said.

Cameron arrived in Washington under intense political pressure over Europe as Tory members of parliament looked set to defy him in the voting lobbies and amid divisions over the 27-nation union within his own cabinet.

So, Obama's comments will be seen in Britain as a boost for Cameron's strategy over the perenially divisive issue of Europe.

Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU before the next general election in 2015, and then, if he is still in power, to hold an in-out referendum on membership of the bloc before the end of 2017.

But eurosceptic Conservative lawmakers are this week trying to force a vote in the House of Commons, or lower chamber of parliament, calling for the prime minister to enshrine his commitment to a referendum in law before 2015.

The vote would be non-binding and is almost certain not to pass as both Cameron's junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and the opposition Labour Party both broadly favour EU membership.

But it would further weaken Cameron's authority in a party that in 1990 even ousted its revered "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher -- who died earlier this year -- over the topic of Europe.

Alongside Obama in the East Room of the White House, Cameron said the idea that the choice before Britons was between the status quo and leaving the EU was a false one.

He pledged again to work to renegotiate the terms of British membership as the bloc, driven by members of the euro, moves towards closer integration.

"I want to see Britain's relationship with European Union change and improve," Cameron said.

"Is it in our interests to reform the European Union to make it more open, more competitive, more flexible and to improve Britain's place within the European union? Yes it is in our national interests."

Obama's intervention in the European debate in Britain was another sign of the close personal relationship between the two leaders, evidenced when the president flew Cameron to a basketball game aboard Air Force One last year.

Cameron was criticized in some sectors of the conservative press in London for meddling in US politics, following his gushing endorsement of Obama last year at a White House dinner -- even as the US leader ran for re-election.

Cameron also used the press conference to push for a proposed EU-US free trade area, saying he wanted to open talks before the G8 summit he will host next month in Northern Ireland.

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