U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday his administration welcomed Scots deciding to remain in the United Kingdom when they voted on an independence referendum Thursday. His remarks came after he strongly hinted that he preferred Scotland not to be an independent country.

“We welcome the result of yesterday’s referendum on Scottish independence and congratulate the people of Scotland for their full and energetic exercise of democracy,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “Through debate, discussion and passionate yet peaceful deliberations, they reminded the world of Scotland’s enormous contributions to the U.K. and the world, and have spoken in favor of keeping Scotland within the United Kingdom.”

Obama referred to the “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K.

“We have no closer ally than the United Kingdom, and we look forward to continuing our strong and special relationship with all the people of Great Britain and Northern Island as we address the challenges facing the world today,” he said.