WASHINGTON, Mar 5 – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged the United States to harness historic global goodwill to pull the world out of its economic slump and lead the charge against climate change.
"We should seize this moment because never before have I seen a world willing to come together so much, never before has that been more needed," he said in a landmark speech to a rare joint session of the US Congress.
Brown pushed lawmakers to embrace his "global New Deal" plan for overhauling the rules of international finance and share the wealth of a world economy he promised would double over the next 20 years.
President Barack Obama’s historic election has given "the whole world renewed hope in itself," he said, adding that "now more than ever the rest of the world wants to work with you" including "your friend Europe."
Brown challenged lawmakers to back his campaign of universal global childhood education and urged them to resist the temptation to erect new trade barriers that could deepen the worst crisis since the depression of the 1930s.
"Should we succumb to a race to the bottom and to a protectionism that history tells us that in the end protects no one? No," said Brown, just the fifth British prime minister to speak to the combined chambers.
Lauding the United States as "the indispensable nation," Brown said US leadership in fighting climate change was critical to forging "a historic agreement" at December UN talks in Denmark’s capital Copenhagen.
"I believe you, the nation that had the vision to put a man on the moon, are also the nation with a vision to protect and preserve our planet Earth," he said, drawing boisterous applause from Obama’s Democrats and a more subdued response from Republicans.
Brown also leveled a fresh warning to Iran, which the West suspects is masking a nuclear weapons drive beneath a civilian atomic energy program despite pressure of tough US- and British-backed sanctions.
"Our shared message to Iran, it is simple: We are ready for you to rejoin the international community, but first you must cease your threats and suspend your nuclear programs," he said.
Brown, who spoke for about 40 minutes, also appealed for US aid in ensuring that children around the world get at least a primary education, calling it "the greatest gift we could give."
The prime minister’s speech received a generally warm response from the packed House chamber, where about half the audience was made up of aides, with many lawmakers including some marquee names absent.
Republican Senator John McCain missed the speech, as did Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, missing Brown’s announcement that Queen Elizabeth II had awarded him an honorary knighthood for his work in promoting peace in Northern Ireland.
The ailing Kennedy, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour last year, said in a statement he was "deeply grateful" and declared: "For me this honour is moving and personal."
Kennedy’s son Patrick Kennedy, a Democratic representative from Rhode Island, went up to Brown after the speech to shake his hand and a chorus of cheers went up when the two men embraced on the dais.
Nearly six years after the Iraq war tore at US transatlantic alliances, Brown told lawmakers that Washington could now count on "the most pro-American European leadership in living memory."
The prime minister won about 17 standing ovations during his speech, and many US lawmakers pressed him successfully afterwards to autograph his prepared remarks.
But Brown received only half-hearted applause when he said he hoped to get agreement on overhauling the world of international finance at April talks of the Group of 20 major economies in London.
He said he hoped the summit would yield "rules and standards for proper accountability, transparency, and reward that will mean an end to the excesses and will apply to every bank everywhere all the time."
Obama called Brown Wednesday afternoon and "congratulated the prime minister on his speech to Congress and expressed his appreciation for a very productive visit," the White House said.