Britain welcomes Obama with pomp and pageantry

LONDON — The United Kingdom rolled out the red carpet and all its considerable majesty Tuesday for President Obama, as he and Michelle Obama launched a two-day state visit that will pivot quickly to more sober discussions of the U.S.-Europe alliance.

First, however, the president and the first lady spent the day Tuesday reveling in the kind of pomp and ceremony that the English do better than anyone else, from a formal welcome by colorful guards to an overnight stay at Buckingham Palace and a lavish state dinner.

They arrived at the palace to the cheers of onlookers as they were greeted by Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip. The queen showed the Obamas around their six-room suite in the 775-room palace.

After meeting briefly with Prince William and his bride, Kate Middleton, the Obamas were formally welcomed outside on the palace's west terrace. Members of the Scots Guards — with their familiar red uniforms and high black furry hats — lined up in front of him while the pipes and drums of the Scots Guards behind them played "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Throughout the ceremony, the brilliant sunlit sky reverberated with the steady cannon pounding out a 41-gun salute.

Touring Westminster Abbey later, Obama laid a red, white and blue wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, which contains the remains of a British soldier that were moved there in 1920 from a World War I battlefield in France.

At the state dinner at the palace, the 170 guests included British airline mogul Richard Branson and American actor Kevin Spacey.

The president will meet today with Prime Minister David Cameron, and will deliver a speech on the trans-Atlantic alliance to a joint session of Parliament that the White House and analysts said would be the major address of his six-day, four-country trip.

Throughout the day today, Obama will affirm the key role of European alliances that he's strived to revitalize.