5 Things to know about Tuesday's state dinner

AP News
Posted: Feb 11, 2014 3:26 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama welcomes French President Francois Hollande to the White House on Tuesday for an awkwardly timed state dinner, coming on the heels of Hollande's recent and very public split from Valerie Trierweiler, his longtime partner and de facto first lady. Here are five things to know about the dinner:

— COMING STAG: Hollande came to Washington without a female companion, despite French media reports that he had been having an affair with a French actress. Coming solo on a state visit is not unheard of. Then-Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is married, came by himself on his 2011 state visit. In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy, who preceded Hollande in office, traveled alone on his first visit to the U.S. as the leader of France. Sarkozy dined at the White House with then-President George W. Bush, but it was not a state dinner.

— FASHION PLUS FOR MICHELLE: Hollande's companion-free visit leaves the fashion spotlight to Michelle Obama, widely regarded as a trendsetter. Trierweiler is no fashion slouch, either, and the media — particularly in France — were eager to take the measure of the two first ladies and their couture choices as they stood side by side in the pomp and pageantry of a red-carpeted state visit. Mrs. Obama will now have the fashion limelight all to herself. The big question remains, "Who will she wear?"

— COME TO EAT: Unlike the most recent big White House soiree — last month's celebrity-packed dance party for Mrs. Obama's 50th birthday — guests coming to dinner needn't worry about arriving with growling stomachs. It is, after all, an occasion for eating. Four courses will be served, including some dishes prepared with ingredients pulled from the first lady's garden on the South Lawn. Birthday guests last month were advised to eat before the party since the focus was on dancing.

— TARMAC RENDEZVOUS: Obama met Hollande at Andrews Air Force Base before their trip Monday to Monticello, the Charlottesville, Va., home of President Thomas Jefferson, an early U.S. envoy to France. It's a gesture he has not made for any of his other state dinner guests of honor, though such greetings once were routine. Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower used to welcome their guests at the train station or airport, but Eisenhower moved the greeting ceremony to the White House in 1957 as the pace of the visits picked up, according to Erik Goldstein, a Boston University professor who has studied state dinners given by the U.S. and other countries. Eisenhower's next scheduled visitor, Saudi Arabia's King Saud, was so offended by the change that he canceled his visit. In the end, Eisenhower agreed to meet the King at the airport, Goldstein said.

— FIRST, BUT NOT FIRST CHOICE: Hollande is the first foreign leader of Obama's second term to be honored with a state dinner, but he was not the first choice. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceled her visit, which had been scheduled for last October, in a fit of pique after revelations that the U.S. had spied inside her country, including on her communications with aides. The U.S. also spied on the French, according to the documents revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. An angry Hollande said such behavior was unacceptable, but he wasn't outraged enough to cancel his visit.


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