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Anticipation high for Obamas' first state dinner

A few hundred VIPs will dine tonight in a huge, heated tent on the South Lawn. It’s the Obamas’ first state dinner.

Associated Press

A few hundred VIPs will dine tonight in a huge, heated tent on the South Lawn. It’s the Obamas’ first state dinner.

WASHINGTON — What's the hottest ticket in the nation's capital?

An engraved invitation to tonight's White House State Dinner, the first hosted by President Barack Obama.

He and the first lady will honor India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh — in a big way, and in their way. In a departure from the most traditional venue, the elegant, high-ceilinged State Dining Room that holds only 140, the Obamas instead will gather with a few hundred VIPs in a huge, heated tent on the South Lawn.

The guest list for the black-tie gala is a closely guarded secret, as is the menu, though produce from Michelle Obama's new vegetable garden is expected to be used and curry is suspected by some to be on the menu for the first time.

Dinners generally draw administration officials, members of Congress, the Cabinet and the diplomatic corps. Obama donors and corporate titans, Hollywood glamor, athletic greats and leading artists are bound to be thrown into the mix, possibly joined by some academics and journalists.

White House veteran Dee Dee Myers, who served as press secretary for President Bill Clinton, is certain that there's been "relentless" lobbying by lesser mortals seeking an invitation. "The lobbying is generally pretty big, but add the social cachet of the Obamas and the fact that it's the first state dinner. The first is always the most dramatic. First impressions are important. That's your A-list, that's your top game right there. By the time you get to the eighth state dinner, it'll be a lot less important."

The first state dinner a president hosts, however, is not necessarily the most memorable, said Carl S. Anthony, historian for the National First Ladies' Library in Canton, Ohio. He cited Dwight D. Eisenhower hosting Queen Elizabeth, Jimmy Carter's dinner honoring Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and Ronald Reagan having Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Singh's visit aims to ease tensions

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Monday that the world must press Pakistan to stop supporting terrorists who continue to target India and urged Pakistan to bring to justice those who planned the Mumbai terror attacks, which left 166 people dead a year ago. His White House state visit is meant to show the U.S. administration's eagerness to win Indian cooperation on counterterror, trade and climate change initiatives. India, however, has watched with wariness as President Barack Obama has lavished attention on rivals Pakistan and China. In an attempt to ease another source of U.S.-Indian tension, Singh said that Indian and U.S. officials will sign a memorandum today intended to improve cooperation on energy security, clean energy and climate change. He did not provide details.

Associated Press

Anticipation high for Obamas' first state dinner 11/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 23, 2009 10:49pm]

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