Citing 'tumultuous times,' the White House is toning down a state dinner for Australia
Updated October 25, 2023 at 11:18 AM ET
President Biden is hosting Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for a state visit on Wednesday. But the White House is scaling back a bit of its planned celebrations at a gala state dinner — months in the making — because of the crisis in the Middle East.
As he welcomed Albanese, Biden noted that the two countries were "standing with Israel against Hamas's terrorism," and Albanese praised Biden for making the case that Palestinian civilians should be protected in Gaza. "We applaud the personal resolve you have brought to this troubled part of the world," Albanese said.
First lady Jill Biden had invited Georgia party band the B-52s to be the musical entertainment for the dinner, but she told reporters on Tuesday that she had changed those plans. The band will attend the dinner as guests, but the Army and Air Force Strolling String bands and the U.S. Marine Band will perform instead.
"We are now in a time when so many are facing sorrow and pain, so we made a few adjustments to the entertainment portion of the evening," the first lady said.
The U.S. is deepening ties with Australia to counter China
As the Biden administration has worked to counter China's influence in the Indo-Pacific region — its top foreign policy priority — the White House has sought to deepen its ties with Australia.
President Biden had planned to visit Australia in May, but had to cancel his trip due to the debt ceiling negotiations. Now, the Middle East crisis is overshadowing the visit meant to honor Albanese.
The leaders plan to talk about new investments in critical minerals mining projects, shared research on artificial intelligence, investments in critical minerals mining, and a plan to work with Google to lay subsea cables to expand internet access for Pacific Island nations.
"The theme — the current — running through this visit is really going to be on innovation," said John Kirby, spokesperson for the National Security Council.
Here's what's on the menu
In the evening, the leaders and their guests will dine in a pavilion on the South Lawn draped in a cascade of colorful cloth inspired by the colors of the sunset, the White House told reporters. Tables will be festooned with pink roses, Australian eucalyptus, dahlias and delphiniums.
"Nurturing our partnerships and relationships with our allies is critically important, especially in these tumultuous times," Jill Biden said on Tuesday, previewing the state dinner's menu.
"Food is comforting, reassuring and healing, and we hope that this dinner provides a little of that as well," she said.
Guest chef Katie Button, who has restaurants in North Carolina, has prepared a menu featuring butternut squash soup, a roasted beet salad, and sarsaparilla-braised short ribs.
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