May 24 (Bloomberg) --President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama began their state visit to the U.K. with a welcome to Buckingham Palace from Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by a tour and a private lunch.
Under sunny skies, Obama, 49, led by Prince Philip, 89, watched as troops of the guard of honor 1st Battalion Scots Guards delivered a royal salute. Members of the Guard band, dressed in cardinal red uniforms, played the U.S. national anthem in the palace’s gardens. A 41-gun salute sounded from Green Park, where the cannons fired while the queen, 85, and the first lady looked atop the steps of the palace’s west terrace. Across town, at the tower of London, there was a 61-gun salute.
The state visit is a chance to feature and strengthen the historically close ties between the two countries, said Heather Conley, director of Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“The focus for the visit of the U.K. is really to put the ‘special’ back into the U.S.-U.K. special relationship,” she said a briefing last week.
Tomorrow the president will address both houses of Parliament, an “anchor speech of this trip to Europe,” said Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. Rhodes told reporters in a briefing last week that in light of the tumult in the Middle East and North Africa, “it’s imperative” that the U.S. and Europe work at “retaining and strengthening our cooperation around the world.”
Obama will meet briefly today with Prime Minister David Cameron and the two will have a more extensive meeting, followed by a news conference, tomorrow.
Buckingham Palace, home to British sovereigns since Queen Victoria took up residence there in 1837, has 775 rooms including 19 state rooms and 52 guest rooms which cover 77,000 sq meters.
The queen showed the president and first lady the suite where they will be staying during the next two nights, which was last occupied by Price William and Catherine, the duke and duchess of Cambridge, on their wedding night, according to a palace spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Obamas also met the couple, who recently returned from their honeymoon.
Earlier, at Winfield house, the U.S ambassador’s official residence where they spent last night, Obama met Prince Charles of Wales and his wife, Camilla.
In an exchange of gifts, the queen presented Obama a selection of letters from the royal archives to and from Queen Victoria from U.S. presidents starting with John Quincy Adams up to William McKinley. Michelle Obama was given an antique brooch in the form of roses made from gold and red coral.
The president and first lady gave the queen a handmade leather-bound volume containing memorabilia and photographs of the visit to the U.S. by her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, in 1939. It was the first such visit by a reigning British monarch to the U.S. Prince Philip received a custom-made set of horse bits and shanks engraved with the presidential seal.
After lunch, the president and first lady viewed exhibits from the royal collection at the Portrait Gallery and toured Westminster Abbey. Obama will also meet with Cameron at 10 Downing Street and with opposition Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband.
The president left Dublin for the U.K. yesterday, a day earlier than scheduled to stay ahead of a volcanic ash cloud spewing from Iceland. Tonight will be capped off with a state dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham palace.
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