President Barack Obama is welcoming British Prime Minister David Cameron to the White House with all the pomp of a state visit as the allies stress their unity in dealing with hot spots like Iran, Syria and Afghanistan.
Amid concerns in Britain that U.S. focus is drifting toward East Asia, Obama is seeking to reassure the British leader with a formal White House dinner and talks on how to coordinate policies on a host of thorny problems.
The serious talks follow a more relaxed day in which Obama and Cameron flew to Dayton, Ohio, to watch an NCAA tournament college basketball game between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky – a new experience for the British leader. Obama gave Cameron the royal treatment, inviting him to fly on Air Force One and enjoy a quintessential American tradition.
The attention to Cameron comes at a time of weighty foreign policy challenges. Britain has been an important U.S. ally in Afghanistan and the bombing campaign in Libya that led to the removal of Moammar Gadhafi.
Obama and Cameron will discuss the upcoming NATO and G-8 summits on Wednesday, followed by a state dinner at the White House.
Cameron will be welcomed at the White House with a 19-gun salute and all the trappings of a state visit, though it will not be called one, since the British monarch – not the prime minister – is considered the head of state.
The lavish welcome is intended to offer thanks for the pageantry during Obama’s visit to Britain last May.
The focus for the two leaders Wednesday was expected to fall on the Middle East and Afghanistan. Obama and Cameron are seeking to ramp up pressure on Iran to reverse steps toward acquiring nuclear weapons capability while staving off a military strike from Israel that they fear would have unpredictable repercussions.
In a joint opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Tuesday, Obama and Cameron said they plan to discuss how to handle the resumption of negotiations with Iran.
“We believe that there is time and space to pursue a diplomatic solution,” they wrote.
While Cameron warned last week that “military action against Iran by Israel would not be the right approach,” he acknowledged all options remain, including the use of force.
The meeting comes ahead of May’s NATO summit in Chicago, where a decision on the timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan is expected to be confirmed.
The White House discussions follow the weekend killings of 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly by a lone U.S. soldier, and the deaths of six British troops last week in a roadside bomb blast – the largest loss of life in a single incident for British forces in Afghanistan since 2006.
Cameron and Obama also will consider how to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad, amid the yearlong uprising during which the U.N. estimates his regime has killed over 7,500 people. Britain’s ambassador to the U.S., Peter Westmacott, said Obama and Cameron had a strong shared conclusion that military action is not the way to solve the crisis.
During his visit, Cameron also is expected to meet with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker – but he won’t hold talks with any of the Republican presidential candidates.