Royal welcome for Obamas

Taking a tip: US First Lady Michelle Obama talks to Britain’s Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, at Buckingham Palace in London on Tuesday. Reuters

The president and his wife Michelle were welcomed by Queen Elizabeth II and a 41-gun salute in the gardens of Buckingham Palace at the start of a two-day visit that will mix pomp with serious diplomacy.

Obama’s time in London will include talks with Prime Minister David Cameron aimed in part at spurring a push for democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring. Before the welcome, the president and his wife had a brief meeting with William and Catherine, now known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, less than a month after watching their wedding on television.

In a picture released afterwards, Catherine, wearing a pale coffee-coloured dress with capped sleeves and looking tanned after her honeymoon in the Seychelles, chatted with the First Lady while the prince talked with Obama.

Later, the queen will fete Obama with all the trappings of a state dinner and the Obamas will stay in the palace’s sumptuous Belgian suite, last used by William and the former Kate Middleton on the night of their April 29 wedding.

But the 24-hour demands that follow a US president everywhere shadowed the London pomp, as Obama took time out to say he was “heartbroken” at the toll of vicious tornados which ripped across the US midwest, killing 116 people.

The serious political business of the visit happens on Wednesday, and Obama and Cameron limbered up for their talks with a vow to support those risking their lives for reform in the Arab world.

“We will not stand by as their aspirations get crushed in a hail of bombs, bullets and mortar fire. We are reluctant to use force, but when our interests and values come together, we know we have a responsibility to act,” they wrote. “We will stand with those who want to bring light into dark, support those who seek freedom in place of repression, aid those laying the building blocks of democracy,” they said in an article in Times newspaper.

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