Obamas get royal welcome at Buckingham Palace
LONDON, May 24 — US President Barack Obama received a royal 41-gun salute at Buckingham Palace today to begin a two-day state visit aimed at ensuring the United States and Britain keep the “special” in their relationship.
The royal family, who just recently enthralled the world with a wedding for Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, gave Obama and his wife, Michelle, a taste of palace pomp and circumstance.
Ceremonial cannon sounded 41 blasts as Queen Elizabeth, her husband Prince Philip, heir Prince Charles and Charles’s wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, escorted the Obamas onto the west terrace of the palace for their formal arrival ceremony.
Obama is on the second stop of a four-nation European tour, arriving from Ireland late yesterday and planning to attend a Group of Eight summit in Deauville, France, on Thursday and end the week in Poland.
While serious business awaits his talks with world leaders, he spent today getting accustomed to Buckingham Palace for only the second ever state visit by an American president to Britain. George W. Bush made the first in 2003.
On the greensward on the palace grounds, Obama joined Prince Philip in conducting a ceremonial review of a Scots Guard regiment, the fur of the soldiers’ bearskin hats ruffling in the breeze.
Before the ceremony, the queen and Prince Philip showed the Obamas the six-room Belgian suite where they were to spend two nights. It was last used by William and Catherine on their wedding night last month.
The Obamas met privately with the royal newlyweds, who did not attend the arrival ceremony.
Later, after lunch at the palace, Obama planned to lay a wreath at Westminster Abbey, hold talks with Prime Minister David Cameron, and attend a state dinner hosted by the queen.
While the two governments have some differences over such issues as Libya, for example — where Obama is seen as less eager than Europeans to lead the battle — the president and Cameron stressed the unique status of US-British relations in an opinion article published in the Times of London.
“Not just special, but an essential relationship,” they wrote. “It’s not only history that binds us. Whether fighting wars or rebuilding the economy, our needs and beliefs are the same.”
Obama and Cameron are to announce the formation of a US-British national security council to work together on international challenges and share intelligence, an Obama administration official said.
It was not developed in response to any one issue, but would help enable “a more guided, coordinated approach to analyse the ‘over the horizon’ challenges we may face in the future”.
In the past decade, London was Washington’s only big ally at war in Iraq. Britain fields the second-largest contingent behind the United States in Afghanistan, and more recently the two countries along with France have led a Western air war in Libya.
Asia, Middle East crowd agenda
A speech at Westminster Hall tomorrow may give Obama an opportunity to outline how Washington now views Europe in a crowded diplomatic agenda dominated by challenges from Asia to the Middle East.
A challenge for the two leaders is Libya. Obama, Cameron and Nato allies launched an air campaign in March to protect Libyan civilians from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in a civil war between him and rebels who now control eastern Libya.
While many Libyan civilians, especially in the east, have been protected by Nato air strikes, Gaddafi remains in power. Obama, Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy say they will not stop bombing until he leaves power.
Obama and Cameron are also expected to review the fight against Islamist militants and relations with Pakistan after the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US special forces on May 2 on Pakistani soil.
Obama will be looking for British support for his call to advance movements for democratic change offered by the “Arab Spring” uprisings in the Middle East.
As a precautionary measure, Obama flew to London last night instead of this morning because of fears that a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland could drift over Ireland and prevent his Air Force One jet from flying.
That forced him to cut short a cheerful visit to Ireland, where he sipped a pint of Guinness in the village of Moneygall to celebrate ancestral roots there, and used a speech in Dublin to lift Irish spirits bruised by a severe economic downturn. — Reuters