5 things to know about White House state dinners

AP News
Posted: Apr 08, 2015 6:31 PM
5 things to know about White House state dinners

WASHINGTON (AP) — Guess who's coming to dinner at the White House?

Not as many people as you might expect. President Barack Obama has held the fewest number of state dinners since Harry Truman occupied the Oval Office 70 years ago.

Obama held seven state dinners during his first six years in office. At least two more are planned for this year. Truman held office for nearly eight years and hosted six state dinners, according to the White House Historical Association.

A state visit is the highest diplomatic honor the U.S. reserves for a country, typically an ally. It includes a state dinner where the two countries publicly celebrate their relationship. Some things to know about White House state dinners:



It says Obama's overall level of engagement with foreign counterparts and the different ways he interacts with them are considered more important than the number of state dinners penciled on his calendar. White House spokesman Patrick Ventrell says a state dinner is one diplomatic tool at the president's disposal, but it isn't the only one.

Obama has met hundreds of times with his counterparts and other foreign officials in settings as formal as the Oval Office and as casual as a Hawaiian golf course.

He huddles with them on stops abroad and has conferred with others on outings to American restaurants, sporting events and tourism destinations. Obama also consults with his counterparts by telephone and videoconference.



Lyndon B. Johnson held 54 state dinners in the five years and two months that he held office in the 1960s, according to the White House association. Guests of honor at Johnson's dinners included the shah and the prime minister of Iran, and the president of Upper Volta, since renamed Burkina Faso, among other guests.

Ronald Reagan had the second-highest number, a total of 52 state dinners during two full terms in office.

Richard M. Nixon was third, with 42 dinners during an Oval Office tenure that was cut short when he resigned in 1974 over his role in the Watergate scandal.



The United Kingdom. It has been honored with 20 state dinners, most recently in 2012.

Fifteen dinners have been held for Italy, most recently in 2008 under George W. Bush.

Israel has been the guest of honor at 14 state dinners, its last appearance coming in 1999.

America's oldest ally, France, has been honored just nine times, including last year.



African countries have been the guest of every president on the White House association's list, except for Truman and Obama.

George W. Bush was the last president to hold a state dinner for an African country: Kenya and Ghana.

The countries of Ethiopia, Tunisia, Liberia and Egypt were frequent guests at one time.

But Obama, who plans a July visit to his father's birthplace of Kenya, has not held a state dinner for an individual African head of state. In August 2014, he held an unusual group dinner for dozens of African dignitaries who participated in a Washington leadership summit.



Japan and China will be honored this year.

The White House has announced an April 28 visit and state dinner by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected later in the year.

Obama's previous state dinners were for India, Mexico, China, Germany, South Korea, Britain and France.


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