World

Queen lauds 'special' U.S.-U.K. relationship

Queen Elizabeth used her speech at a state dinner honouring U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle to celebrate common bonds between the United States and Britain that she says go beyond military and diplomatic ties.
Queen Elizabeth, U.S. President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Prince Philip pose for photographers prior to a dinner hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in London. (Larry Downing/Associated Press)

Latest

  • Obama toasts Queen at state dinner
  • Chats with Duke and Duchess of Cambridge after honeymoon
  • Meets U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron
  • U.S. president plays table tennis with British students

Queen Elizabeth used her speech at a state dinner honouring U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle to celebrate common bonds between the United States and Britain that she says go beyond military and diplomatic ties. 

The Queen opened the lavish state dinner at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday by recalling fond memories of her earlier meetings with the Obamas. And she said that the U.S. and Britain in most cases see world problems in the same light.  

The Queen said the U.S.-U.K relationship is — in her words —"tried, tested and, yes, special."

In toasting the Queen at only the second state dinner the British have ever thrown for an American president, Obama called her "a living witness to the power of our alliance and a chief source of its resilience."

Tuesday's state visit was all about images-with-a-message before Obama delves into the gritty details of foreign policy with British Prime Minister David Cameron on the last day of his visit to England, and makes an address to Parliament reassuring Europe about its place in American foreign policy.

The couple were greeted in London by Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, at Winfield House, the stately mansion in Regent's Park that is the residence of the U.S. ambassador. The Obamas stayed there Monday night after leaving Ireland early — instead of spending the night in Dublin — because of safety concerns over a volcanic ash cloud blowing toward Britain from Iceland.

In the formality and ceremony of the U.S. president's state visit in London — and in the unscripted personal moments that played out within that framework — Obama was working to shore up the U.S. relationship with Britain and to further his efforts to see Western allies shoulder a greater share of the burden in addressing trouble spots around the globe.   

Tuesday was a day for over-the-top pomp: Not just a 21-gun salute, but a 41-gun salute at the palace (20 extras because the shots were fired from a royal park) and an additional 62-gun salute from the Tower of London (21 bonus booms because they were fired within the city of London, palace officials explained).

Obama speaks to the Queen during a state banquet in Buckingham Palace on Tuesday. ((Lewis Whyld, Pool/Associated Press))

As a special treat, the Obamas had a chance to meet newlyweds Prince William and new wife Kate, who came down from Wales for what one palace spokesman called "a bit of a chin wag." The couples had a morning visit, but the newlyweds didn't stay for dinner.

State visits are arranged by Britain's government as a way of courting allies and rewarding friends. The Queen's guest list and even her dinner toast are co-ordinated with officials.    Although most previous presidents have visited England and met the Queen, a number of features are required by British protocol in order for the trip to be considered a state visit. George W. Bush is the only previous U.S. president to be accorded a state visit, according to Buckingham Palace.

High-powered ceremony was deployed at every turn: 

  • In the formal welcome in the sunshine of the West Terrace, where Obama and the Duke of Edinburgh reviewed the troops of the Scots Guard. 
  • In a solemn wreath-laying at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey. 
  • In the gilded state dinner, with its royal procession into the ballroom and a menu including Agneau de la Nouvelle Saison de Windsor au Basilic (seasonal lamb).

Michelle Obama, her clothes always a source of worldwide fascination, turned up at the state dinner wearing a high fashion white gown by Tom Ford with a crisscross halter neckline and fitted waist with a self-tie bow.   

Celebrities Tom Hanks, Kevin Spacey, Tim Burton, and Helena Bonham-Carter added lustre to the list of invited guests.

Obama to meet Cameron over foreign policy

On Wednesday, the president's Europe tour, which began with a friendly visit to Ireland, pivots to focus on a thicket of foreign policy challenges.

Obama laughs with British Prime Minister David Cameron, right, while they play table tennis against students at the Globe Academy on Tuesday. ((Larry Downing/Reuters))
  

Obama is scheduled to meet with Cameron to discuss security issues including Afghanistan, the Arab Spring and counterterrorism. The two also are expected to discuss the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya, and ways the U.S. and Britain can boost assistance to rebels opposing longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Obama's mission, in part, is to reassure Britain and the rest of Europe that the traditional U.S. allies still have a central role in U.S. foreign policy, which has become increasingly focused on Asia and other emerging markets.

"I think this is, in part, a way to bring back the special bonds of this relationship," said Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

In a joint editorial for Tuesday's edition of the Times of London, Obama and Cameron cast the relationship between the U.S. and Britain as one that makes the world more secure and more prosperous.

"That is the key to our relationship," the leaders wrote. "Yes, it is founded on a deep emotional connection, by sentiment and ties of people and culture. But the reason it thrives, the reason why this is such a natural partnership, is because it advances our common interests and shared values."

Still, the two allies don't always agree on every issue, a reality sure to expose itself in talks on national security and foreign policy. British lawmakers, for example, have expressed concern that European countries have carried an unfair share of the burden of the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya, which the U.S. has made clear it does not want to run.

After his two-day stop in Britain, Obama will head to France for a meeting of the G8 industrialized nations and then to Poland, a schedule the White House says the president intends to keep despite the approaching ash cloud.

Obama tried to get to Poland last year for the funeral of its president. But that trip was cancelled because of an ash cloud from a different Icelandic volcano.

With files from CBC News