White House polishes the silver for the queen

United States President George Bush welcomed Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and her husband to the White House on Monday, in what will become the first formal British royal visit with a US leader in 16 years.

The monarch and Prince Philip were to be greeted on the south lawn of the White House with a 21-gun salute and the national anthems of the two countries.

As the White House polished its best china and crystal tableware, 7 000 guests — including diplomats, members of the US Congress and Cabinet and other officials — chose their grandest outfits in which to attend the ceremony.

Only the most formal dress code of white tie and tails will do for the much more exclusive five-course state dinner in the queen’s honour that will be hosted on Monday evening by the president and First Lady Laura Bush.

”We’ve done everything we can think of to do to make it really a wonderful evening for her, and I know the American people are thrilled that she’s here in the United States,” the US first lady said in an interview Monday with ABC television. ”We’re so thrilled to have this chance to host her, and to show her the strong affection that the American people have for the British, and for our long-time allies and our best friends.”

Bush has hosted eight official visits during his six years as president — including by leaders from Poland, Kenya, Japan and China — but it is the first time he has applied the white-tie treatment.

”The United States has no closer ally and friend than Great Britain,” the White House said in a statement detailing the tightly coordinated protocol for the royal visit.

Arrangements for the dinner for 134 guests were being handled by the office of Laura Bush, who was said to be behind the idea to decree such formal attire, US media reported.

The White House said the tables for the dinner would be adorned with ”historically significant pieces” from its collection, including gold-rimmed china, the president’s ”house crystal” and English vermeil gilded silver.

Among the guests will be Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and General Peter Pace, chairperson of the US military joint chiefs of staff, the White House said.

Lamp posts near the White House were festooned with Union Jacks and US flags ahead of the queen’s arrival.

The White House also said it had coordinated closely with the State Department’s Office of Protocol, which gives advice for state visits, including ”the proper way to address foreign dignitaries and visitors” and the dietary preferences of visitors. The queen ”doesn’t like spicy food”, newspapers quoted Anita McBride, Laura Bush’s chief of staff, as saying.

After seeing a historic English settlement in Virginia and a classic horse race in Kentucky, the royal couple touched down at Andrews Air-Force Base near the capital on Sunday, according to a schedule from the royal family.

The queen last came to the US in 1991 when Bush’s father was president. Her first visit had been as a 31-year-old monarch in 1957, when she met then president Dwight Eisenhower.

She kept a low profile on Sunday in Kentucky, where she was the guest of William Farish, a horse breeder and former US ambassador to London.

Earlier this week, Elizabeth and Philip also toured Jamestown, Virginia, celebrating its 400th anniversary as the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.

Prince Philip, who served in World War II and commanded a ship before his wife became queen, also visited the US naval base of Norfolk, Virginia, and met families of service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They will host the Bushes for a reciprocal dinner at the British embassy on Tuesday.

They will also tour the Nasa Goddard Space Flight Centre and a children’s medical centre in Washington, DC, lay a wreath at the World War II National Memorial and meet war veterans before heading back to London. — Sapa-AFP

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