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White House preparing elaborate state dinner Monday for Queen Elizabeth

The White House was preparing its most formal dinner of George W. Bush's presidency to host Queen Elizabeth II Monday.

The British monarch and her husband, Prince Philip, were to be greeted Monday morning for an arrival ceremony at the White House's South Lawn with a 21-gun salute and a parade by the U.S. Army's Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps attended by 7,000 guests.

An exclusive few will return in white tie and tails for a state dinner among thirteen damask-clothed tables set with gold-trimmed ivory china and gilded silver candelabras.

It will be the Bushes' fifth state dinner in six years, but the first in white-tie. The high pomp for a president known for his informality may come as a welcome distraction at a time that Bush's approval rating has dropped to near all-time lows and he battles the U.S. Congress over funding for an unpopular Iraq war.

"Our nations share an exceptionally close relationship based on deep historical and cultural ties, a common language, shared values and interests, and a commitment to defend freedom around the world," the White House said in a press release Friday. "This visit by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh is an occasion to celebrate these enduring bonds."

The White House said the president was happy to return hospitality to the queen who hosted the Bushes to a white tie state banquet in November 2003 during an official visit to Britain.

The visit to Washington comes at the tail end of a six-day trip, the Queen's fifth to the United States in 50 years but her first since 1991. The royal couple were to arrive Sunday night at Andrews Air Force Base before traveling to Washington, where they were invited to spend the night at Blair House, the president's guest house.

In between the White House events Monday, the royal couple plan to attend a garden party at the British ambassador's residence.

On Tuesday, the queen will join Laura Bush to tour Children's National Medical Center. She also plans to plant a tree at the British ambassador's residence and visit NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the National World War II Memorial. On Tuesday night she will host the president and the first lady for a dinner at the British embassy before returning to London.

The royal couple kept a low profile Sunday with no official events after attending the Kentucky Derby Saturday. They began their six-day trip to the United States in Virginia, where the queen addressed the state's General Assembly. She also visited Jamestown, which is observing the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.

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