Obama in London: At state dinner, president and queen toast nations' enduring ties

President Obama


Queen Elizabeth II

toasted the special relationship between the United States and the

United Kingdom

on Tuesday, a bond strengthened at times of peril for each of the transatlantic allies.

In remarks at the start of a gala state dinner in Buckingham Palace, the queen recalled how the United States "came to the rescue" of


in the past and said today "the U.S. remains our most important ally."

When the two nations stand together, she said "our people and other people of the good will around the world will be more secure and prosperous."

In his own toast, Obama thanked the United Kingdom for its solidarity in the 10 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and for the "very heavy sacrifices" it has made while fighting "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States since then.

"From that day to this, you have been our closest partner in the struggle to protect our people from terrorist attacks and violent extremism around the world," Obama said.

Obama also made note of the "fleeting nature of presidencies and prime ministerships" when compared to the long tenure of the British monarch. Queen Elizabeth has seen "a dozen of each," Obama said, which makes her "a living witness to the power of our alliance and the chief source of its resilience." Britain will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, marking a 60-year reign.

The dinner is being held in the palace ballroom, a cavernous red-carpeted space with white walls and gilded trim. Approximately 170 guests were to enjoy a menu that includes sole and lamb. Among the guests are members of the royal family, leaders of the British government and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and actors such as

Tom Hanks


Kevin Spacey

, and Helena Bonham-Carter.

The president and first lady will remain at the palace overnight. On Wednesday, Obama holds a formal bilateral meeting and news conference with

Prime Minister David Cameron

, and a barbecue at Downing Street for U.S. and British military families and veterans.

The president will also host the queen for dinner Wednesday night at the residence of the American ambassador to London.