President Bush has arrived in London for a state visit sure to be full of ceremony and controversy. Britain's Prince Charles was there to greet the president when Air Force One touched down in London. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of demonstrators were getting ready to extend a different kind of welcome.
They plan to take to the streets during the state visit to protest U.S. policy in Iraq. President Bush says they have every right to do so. "I am glad to be going to a free country where people are free to protest," he said.
The state visit invitation was extended in mid-2002, at a time when memories of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States were fresh, and no coalition troops were serving in Iraq.
In recent months, opinion polls in Britain have shown growing public disapproval of the war and the president's Iraq policy. And that disapproval has created political problems for Mr. Bush's staunchest ally on Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In the days leading up to the visit, newspapers in Britain talked about the president's stay as a potential embarrassment for Mr. Blair. But President Bush said he did not think the timing was awkward.
"I am honored I have been invited. I look forward to my consultations with Tony Blair. We visit all the time via telephone or via secure video-link. I look forward to seeing him in person. It is going to be a great trip," he said.
It will certainly be one for the history books. Some historians, citing British protocol, say this is the first state visit ever by an American president. The State Department website says that honor rests with Ronald Reagan, who was the guest of the queen at Windsor Castle in 1982. And there is another school of thought that gives the first state visit to Woodrow Wilson, who stayed at Buckingham Palace in 1918.
Mr. Bush will spend three nights at the Palace, where the queen will host a state banquet. But there will not be an open-carriage ride through London with the British monarch and the president will not address parliament.
Security is being cited as the main reason for canceling the traditional carriage ride. And there were concerns of a walk-out or some other form of protest from members of parliament opposed to the war.
The situation in Iraq is expected to be the number one topic when the president sits down Thursday for talks with Prime Minister Blair. He will visit Mr. Blair's home district in Northern England before returning to Washington on Friday.