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Obama In London For State Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama step off Air Force One as they arrive at London's Stansted Airport, May 23, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama is in London, where he will meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron and be honored by Queen Elizabeth at a state dinner Tuesday. The president left Dublin half a day early because of ash drifting from a volcano in Iceland.

President Obama arrived in London late Monday night, instead of Tuesday morning as had been planned. As a result, he and first lady Michelle Obama spent their first night in the British capital at the home of the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. They will stay at Buckingham Palace Tuesday night, as scheduled.

This is not President Obama's first visit to Britain, but it is his first formal state visit here. Britain's Queen Elizabeth will hold a state dinner in the president's honor.

Obama will meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday. They will certainly discuss economic issues as they both prepare for the Group of 8 economic summit, later in the week in France.

Security issues will also be a major focus for the two leaders. The British Charge d'Affaires in the United States, Philip Barton, recently told a forum at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based research group, Obama and Cameron will concentrate on the changes in the Middle East and North Africa.

“They will be talking about the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I am sure they will also discuss how best we can work together to respond to the Arab Spring and support countries like Egypt and Tunisia as they go through transition,” said Barton.

In addition to Mr. Cameron, President Obama will meet with Britain's opposition leader, Ed Miliband, and he will speak to both houses of Parliament.

It is widely believed that another priority for Obama in this visit is to bolster the U.S.-British relationship, itself. What the late British prime minister Winston Churchill dubbed the “special relationship” has shown some signs of neglect in recent years.

Obama's first press secretary, Robert Gibbs, declined to describe it as a “special relationship,” but rather as a “partnership.” And, administration statements referring to the energy company BP by its former name, British Petroleum, during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill angered some people in Britain.

However, the British Charge d'Affaires, Philip Barton, says the bond between Britain and America remains as strong as ever.

“For the United Kingdom, the United States is our closest ally," said Barton. "So the state visit has both symbolic and substantive importance.”

A column in Tuesday's Times of London, under Obama's and Cameron's bylines, proclaims that the relationship is not just special, but essential.

The importance of that longtime alliance will be on very conspicuous display in the British capital this week.