Nov. 24, 2009— -- When the Obamas host their first official state dinner for the Indian prime minister tonight at the White House, the evening will be soaked deep in history and tradition but will include a little Obama flavor, aides to the president said.
The Obamas kicked off the long day this morning by welcoming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gursharan Kaur, to the White House for the official visit.
In a tampered down arrival ceremony, moved from the South Lawn to the East Room because of rain, President Obama told the prime minister today that "it is fitting that you and India be so recognized.
"This visit reflects the high esteem in which I and the American people hold your wise leadership," Obama said. "It reflects the abiding bonds of respect and friendship between our people, including our friends in the Indian-American community who join us here today."
As the two nations work toward better futures, the president said, "India is indispensable," adding that the two leaders can unite to strengthen the economy, promote trade, combat climate change end extreme poverty, stop terrorism and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
As the world's largest democracies, the president added, the United States and India can "keep faith with our common values: speaking out and standing up for the rights and dignity to which all human beings are entitled, and showing that nations that respect the rights and aspirations of their people are ultimately more stable, more secure and more successful."
Obama noted that it was 60 years ago that President Truman welcomed to the White House the first prime minister of an independent India.
"While the decades that followed were not without their challenges, the spirit of that first visit is with us today; the same sense of possibility, the same hope for the future."
Singh said he brought to the United States the "friendly greetings of our 1 billion people of India," as he came to "broaden and deepen our strategic partnership."
The two leaders will spend the morning behind closed doors in a series of one-on-one and extended meetings with their broader delegations. A joint news conference will.
The main event, culminating the day's activities, will be the glitzy and glamorous state dinner in the evening.
Three-hundred-twenty guests were invited to the "black tie" event, the invitation reading simply:
"The President and Mrs. Obama request the pleasure of the company of Mr. _____ at a dinner in honor of His Excellency Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of the Republic of India, and Mrs. Gursharan Kaur, to be held at The White House on Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at seven o'clock."
A large white tent has been erected on the South Lawn of the White House to accommodate the many guests, which aides tout as a sign of the openness of the Obama administration. In years past, the dinner has been held in the East Room or the State Dining Room, which would allow for far fewer guests: The State Dining Room, for example, seats 120 people.
By opening the event to the lawn of the White House, the administration was able to expand the guest list. Such an arrangement is not common, but it has been done before. In 2000, President Bill Clinton invited nearly 700 people for a state dinner under a tent on the South Lawn honoring Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Among those lucky 320 invited to the Obamas' first formal fete are notable Indians from the United States and abroad, as well as the Indian delegation, members of Congress, many top-level administration staffers and a few of the Obamas' Chicago friends.
Actor-turned-White House staffer and Indian-American Kal Penn is also expected to attend.
The complete guest list, under lock and key until this afternoon, will be scrutinized later today for celebrity figures and big donors perhaps being repaid for campaign support by receiving the golden ticket.