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story.lead_photo.caption French President French President Emmanuel Macron walks out of the Elysee Palace as he awaits European Parliament President Antonio Tajani in Paris, France, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017.

LONDON -- Britain and the European Union are preparing to head back to the negotiating table after a speech by Prime Minister Theresa May that received a cautious welcome from the bloc's leaders.

May stressed in her Friday speech that Britain wants to keep close ties with the bloc and offered to keep paying the EU and following its rules during a two-year transition period after the U.K.'s formal departure in March 2019.

EU leaders welcomed the constructive tone of May's speech, but called for more detail.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday said that clarity still is needed on three big issues: the rights of European citizens affected by the U.K.'s exit, the amount Britain must pay to settle its obligations to the EU, and the status of the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

"If those three points are not clarified, then we cannot move forward on the rest," Macron said.

The European Union's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, dubbed May's speech "constructive" but added that it "must be translated into negotiating positions to make meaningful progress."

Barnier said the prime minister showed "a willingness to move forward."

Not everyone on the European side was so diplomatic.

Manfred Weber, a senior German member of the European Parliament and an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the speech was far from illuminating.

"In substance PM May is bringing no more clarity to London's positions. I am even more concerned now," he tweeted Friday.

Nigel Farage, former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, slammed the speech, saying that May was seeking to "rebadge the status quo."

"The most telling line of the whole speech was towards the end when she said, 'We don't seek an unfair competitive advantage.' Well, that's what I voted for! I voted for us to be able to be competitive, to be global, to be free of European laws," he told Sky News.

In her remarks, May kept pressing her skeptical European counterparts not to get bogged down in who pays what, when and how, but to envision a new world in which "imaginative" and "creative" and "ambitious" solutions could bind the two entities together toward common goals based on shared values.

"We want to be your strongest friend and partner as the EU and the U.K. thrive side by side," May told the Europeans.

The prime minister did not say how much Britain would pay into European Union coffers to remain in the trading bloc during the transition -- nor how much Britain might owe to get out of the union.

May said only that London would "honor"its existing and future commitments.

Independent estimates of that "divorce bill" -- the settling of accounts for British commitments, offset by payments to the EU -- range from $30 billion to $90 billion.

European and British negotiators have spent the past six months -- and three rounds of talks in Brussels -- with very little to show.

Negotiators are due to start a fourth round of talks in Brussels on Monday.

In a blow for May's government, credit rating agency Moody's downgraded Britain a notch to Aa2, the third-highest level, citing the country's debt burden and uncertainty about leaving the EU.

The agency said it was not confident Britain "will be able to secure a replacement free trade agreement with the EU which substantially mitigates the negative economic impact of Brexit."

The downgrade decision was made before May's speech. But Alastair Wilson, head of sovereign ratings at Moody's, said Saturday that nothing in the speech would have changed the decision.

Information for this article was contributed by William Booth and Karla Adam of The Washington Post and staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 09/24/2017

Print Headline: Talk by U.K.'s May on EU exit strategy called 'constructive'

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