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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama led an outpouring of U.S. affection for late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Monday, saying "America has lost a true friend" who helped win the Cold War.
Thatcher, the "Iron Lady" of British politics, died on Monday after a stroke. She was an important ally to American leaders throughout the 1980s, developing close ties with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and was embraced as a soul mate by U.S. conservatives.
"With the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend," Obama said in a statement.
Obama, who has two young daughters, said Thatcher, a grocer's daughter who became Britain's first woman prime minister, "stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can't be shattered."
Thatcher, a Conservative, was closely aligned with Reagan in building up defences against the Soviet Union. The policies were seen as important to the breakup of the Soviet bloc under Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and the end of the Cold War.
Bush, who worked closely with Thatcher during the Soviet breakup and in rolling back the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, praised her as one of the 20th century's strongest advocates of freedom and free markets.
"The personal grief we Bushes feel is compounded by the knowledge that America has lost one of the staunchest allies we have ever known; and yet we have confidence that her sterling record of accomplishment will inspire future generations," Bush said in a statement.
"NO TIME TO GO WOBBLY"
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell recalled that Thatcher met with Bush after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and argued for a characteristically tough response. "This is no time to go wobbly, George," she told him.
"She certainly was as President Gorbachev said, an 'Iron Lady.' We had a lighter view of her. We said, 'Watch out for the handbag.' She was tough as nails," Powell said in an interview with CBS News.
Reagan's widow, Nancy, called her husband and Thatcher "political soul mates" who helped bring about the end of Communism. In a statement, she praised Thatcher for sticking to her beliefs "at a time when so many were afraid to 'rock the boat.'"
U.S. admiration for Thatcher stands in contrast to divided opinion about her in Britain. Craig Shirley, a Reagan biographer, said Americans looked at Thatcher more as a world leader than an economic transformer, as Britons might.
"We tend to give leaders the benefit of the doubt, and I think that that unique American characteristic also applies to foreign leaders," he told Reuters.
Shirley and other U.S. conservatives said Thatcher was linked with Reagan and the late Pope John Paul II as leaders who helped end Communism.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Ian Simpson; Editing by Eric Beech and Frances Kerry)