Francois Hollande honoured at US state dinner

The two presidents' toasts were the highlights of the evening

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French President Francois Hollande has been honoured at a lavish White House state dinner, capping a visit to the US aimed at renewing the partnership between the two long-standing allies.

His was the first official state dinner at the White House since 2011.

At the party, Mr Hollande and US President Barack Obama toasted the nations' centuries-old friendship.

They have suggested the bad feelings over US spying and French opposition to the Iraq War have been soothed.

First Lady Michelle Obama (left), French President Francois Hollande (centre) and US President Barack Obama at a State Dinner at the White House on 11 February 2014  Guests at the state dinner were treated to rib-eye beef and salad from the White House garden

Among the guests at Tuesday's state dinner were diplomats and dignitaries from both governments, as well as leaders in the media and business.

Hollywood luminaries in attendance included Bradley Cooper, Mindy Kaling, Stephen Colbert, Julie Louis-Dreyfus and director JJ Abrams.

The roughly 300 guests dined on caviar, quail eggs and rib-eye steak, later listening to a performance from singer Mary J Blige.

After being welcomed to the White House by Mr Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Mr Hollande was seated between the couple at the dinner table in a heated tent on the South Lawn.

The move was seen as a tactful way to handle the fact that Mr Hollande arrived alone after a widely publicised split from long-time partner Valerie Trierweiler following reports he had an affair with an actress.

Comedian Stephen Colbert and his wife Evie Colbert arrive for the State Dinner being held for French President Francois Hollande at the White House in Washington 11 February 2014 Political satirist Stephen Colbert, shown with his wife Evie, sat beside First Lady Michelle Obama at the dinner
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcome French President Francois Hollande as he arrives for a state dinner at the White House in Washington, DC, 11 February 2014 The US president and first lady met Mr Hollande for a traditional greeting on the White House steps
US first lady Michelle Obama (L), French President Francois Hollande (C) and US President Barack Obama pose in front of the Grand Staircase for an official photo before a State Dinner at the White House 11 February 2014 Mr Hollande is the first French president to be honoured with a state dinner since Jacques Chirac

The highlights of the evening were toasts given by the two presidents.

With a glass of white wine in his hand, Mr Obama opened by quoting French writer Alexis de Tocqueville's impressions of 19th Century America, recalling to humorous effect his bafflement with American cuisine and his underwhelming impression of the White House.

"We Americans have grown to love all things French - the films, the food, the wine," Mr Obama continued. "But most of all, we love our French friends because we have stood together for our freedom for more than 200 years.

"Vive la France, God bless America, and long live the alliance between our great nations."

'We love Americans'

Speaking first in English, Mr Hollande acknowledged the sacrifice of the US soldiers who fought in France during World War Two and said that France felt America's pain at the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

State dinner menu

At Tuesday's state dinner, the first at the White House since 2011, guests were served:

First course: American Osetra Caviar, Fingerling Potato Veloute, Quail Eggs, Crisped Chive Potatoes

Second course: White House's Winter Garden Salad

Main course: Rib Eye Beef, Blue Cheese, Charred Shallots, Oyster Mushrooms, Braised Chard

Dessert: Hawaiian Chocolate-Malted Ganache, Vanilla Ice Cream and Tangerines

Continuing in French, he praised French-US diplomatic and military co-operation in the Middle East and Africa, and said the two countries would work jointly for economic growth and to combat climate change.

Mr Hollande said relations between the two countries had reached "an exceptional level of closeness and confidence" because they shared the "universal values" of freedom, democracy and respect for the law.

"We love Americans, although we don't always say so," the French president said, "and you love the French, but you are sometimes too shy to say so."

At a news conference after bilateral talks earlier on Tuesday, Mr Hollande said he and Mr Obama had resolved their issues over digital eavesdropping by the US National Security Agency.

"Mutual trust has been restored," said Mr Hollande.

Mr Obama also announced he had accepted Mr Hollande's invitation to go to France in June to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy during World War Two.

On Wednesday, Mr Hollande will travel to San Francisco and meet chiefs of Silicon Valley giants including Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Mary J Blige (centre) performed at the state dinner at the White House in Washington DC on 11 February 2014 Guests witnessed a performance by musician Mary J Blige (centre)
Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus (left) and her father William Louis-Dreyfus arrived to a state dinner at the White House in Washington DC on 11 February 2014 Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus brought her father, William, as her guest to the state function
US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power (right) and her husband Cass Sunstein arrived to a state dinner at the White House in Washington DC on 11 February 2014 US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power (right) and her husband Cass Sunstein partook in the evening's festivities
Entrepreneur Elon Musk (right) and his wife Talulah Musk arrived for the State Dinner at the White House in Washington on 11 February 2014 PayPal, Space X and Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk (right) and his wife Talulah also attended the soiree

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