Obama says the Queen symbolises the 'best of England'

Media caption,
US President Obama: "The Queen symbolises the best of England"

The Queen symbolises the "best of England" to the whole world, President Barack Obama has told the BBC.

Speaking ahead of his first state visit to the UK on Tuesday, he said the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were "extraordinarily gracious people".

The president and First Lady Michelle Obama will be guests of the Queen at Buckingham Palace for three days.

President Obama also said he and Prime Minister David Cameron agreed on the continuing policy in Afghanistan.

'Very proud'

The president last met the Queen in April 2009 when he was attending a G20 summit in London, but in the interview he got the date wrong saying: "I met Her Majesty, the Queen and the entire Royal Family the last time I was, the first time I was in England. In April of 2008."

On that visit he and the first lady went to Buckingham Palace for tea.

This week's trip to the UK is, however, President Obama's first state visit, as it is officially at the invitation of the Queen.

The president told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I think what the Queen symbolises not just to Great Britain, but to the entire Commonwealth, and obviously the entire world, is the best of England. And we're very proud of her."

He also went on to highlight the Queen's kindness, praising how welcoming she had been when the first lady and their two daughters visited Buckingham Palace without him in June 2009.

"She could not have been more charming and gracious to the girls," said President Obama.

Cameron agreement

Regarding the US and UK's continuing military presence in Afghanistan, the president said "I think Prime Minister Cameron and I very much agree on this issue".

He said that both the US and UK governments recognised that while the military effort needed to continue, this would not be successful on its own.

President Obama added: "What we can do I think is use the efforts that we've made militarily to broker a political settlement that ensures the Afghanistan constitution is abided by, that elections remain free and fair, that human rights including women's rights are respected."

He also said that the US would carry out a similar operation to that which killed Osama Bin Laden if another al-Qaeda leader was found in Pakistan.

He said the US could not allow "active plans to come to fruition without us taking some action", while at the same time being mindful of Pakistan sovereignty.

Foreign Secretary William Hague later told Sky News that the UK and US stood "very closely together" on foreign policy.

He added that the UK government agreed with President Obama's view that the starting basis for borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state should be those that were in place before the 1967 Middle East War.

Mr Hague also said President Obama was right to put pressure on Israel, as "only the United States can decisively deliver Israel into a peace agreement".

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