Obama suggests Scotland should stay in Britain, urges Britain to stay in EU

BRUSSELS (AFP) - United States President Barack Obama suggested on Thursday that Scotland would be better off as part of Britain, and urged the British to stay in the European Union.

Stepping into a febrile debate over Scotland's independence referendum on Sept 18, Mr Obama said the decision was "up to the people of Scotland". But at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the end of the G7 summit in Brussels, Mr Obama said there was a positive case for staying together.

"From the outside at least it looks like things have worked pretty well," Mr Obama said. "And we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies that we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner," he said. "But ultimately these are decisions that will be made by the folks there."

Mr Obama also made a fresh appeal on the subject of Britain's EU membership, on which Mr Cameron has promised a referendum in 2017.

"It's always encouraging for us to know that Great Britain has a seat at the table in the larger European project," Mr Obama said.

"And it's hard for me to imagine that project going well in the absence of Great Britain," he said.

"And I think it's also hard for me to imagine that it would be advantageous for Great Britain to be excluded from political decisions that have an enormous impact on its economic and political life."

Mr Obama has made similar comments on Britain's place in the 28-member EU in the past.

Opinion polls in Scotland have indicated that the pro-union camp still hold a narrowing lead over pro-independence activists, while surveys have had more variable results when it comes to British membership of the EU.

Scotland's pro-independence First Minister Alex Salmond borrowed Mr Obama's famous election slogan to declare that "Yes we can" have independence.

"As President Obama rightly observes, the decision on Scotland's future is up to the people of Scotland," said Mr Salmond, who heads the devolved government in Edinburgh.

"An independent Scotland will mean that America has two great friends and allies here rather than one."

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