White House preparing elaborate state dinner Monday for Queen Elizabeth

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush, a leader known for his informality, is welcoming Queen Elizabeth II to the White House with an uncharacteristic display of high pomp.

"We did sort of have to convince him a little bit" to opt for the white-tie dinner, first Lady Laura Bush said Monday of her and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's efforts to talk Bush into hosting the most formal dinner the White House can offer.

The British monarch and her husband, Prince Philip, are being greeted later Monday morning with a 21-gun salute and a parade by the U.S. Army's Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps attended by 7,000 guests on the White House's South Lawn.

An exclusive few will return in white tie and tails for the state dinner among 13 damask-clothed tables set with gold-trimmed ivory china and gilded silver candelabras.

"We're very excited to host Her Majesty," Mrs. Bush said Monday morning on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"We had the opportunity to be here the last time she was here for a state dinner (hosted by the first President Bush in 1991) ... and we're so thrilled to have the chance to host her and to show her the strong affection the American people have for the British," she said.

It will be the Bushes' fifth state dinner in six years, but the first in white tie. The event may come as a welcome distraction at a time when Bush's approval rate has dropped near all-time lows and he battles Congress over funding for an unpopular Iraq war.

The White House said the president was happy to return hospitality to the queen, who hosted the Bushes at a white-tie state banquet in November 2003 during an official visit to Britain.

The visit to Washington comes at the tail end of a six-day trip, the Queen's fifth to the United States in 50 years but her first since 1991. The royal couple arrived Sunday night at Andrews Air Force Base before spending the night at Blair House, the president's guest house.

In between the White House events Monday, the royal couple plan to attend a garden party at the British ambassador's residence.

On Tuesday, the queen will join Laura Bush in a tour of Children's National Medical Center. She also plans to plant a tree at the British ambassador's residence and visit NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the National World War II Memorial. On Tuesday night she's to have dinner with the Bushes at the British embassy before returning to London.

The royal couple kept a low profile Sunday, with no official events after attending the Kentucky Derby Saturday. They began their six-day trip to the United States in Virginia. The queen addressed the state's General Assembly and visited Jamestown, which is observing the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.

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