WASHINGTON – In toasting Australia's prime minister at a White House dinner Tuesday night, President Bush quoted former President Reagan, who used to say it was "morning in America."
"That's still true for our country," Bush said, cheerfully. "We're really an optimistic people, and we firmly believe the best days are ahead for our country."
Then, Bush joked: "It's also comforting to know that on the other side of the world, it's already morning in Australia."
The quip generated a light moment in the State Dining Room, which was elegantly decorated with hot pink hydrangea, roses and blush-colored lisianthus. The flowers on the table encircled silver candelabras, which were made by a London silversmith in the early 1800s and given to the White House in 1963.
In a five-minute exchange of toasts, Bush said that the United States and Australia work together to expand trade, counter threats of nuclear proliferation and develop energy technologies.
"In the global war on terror we have no better ally than Australia and John Howard," Bush said.
Howard said the world will need the United States in the future as much as it does today.
"Those foolish enough to suggest that America should have a lesser role in the affairs of the world should pause and think whether they really mean what they say, because a world without a dedicated, involved America will be a lesser world, a less safe world, a more precarious world," Howard said.
Howard and his wife, Janette, arrived just before dark at the North Portico of the White House, where the president stood straightening his tuxedo jacket and chatting with first lady Laura Bush, who wore a pale yellow, beaded long-sleeved gown designed by Peggy Jennings.
The U.S. Marine Band began playing as the foursome headed inside. Outside, a worker used a wet scrub brush to erase chalk marks on the driveway that had marked where each U.S. troop was to stand at attention when the Australian delegation arrived in black limousines.
As soon as the toasts concluded, the lights were dimmed and dinner was served. The first course of summer squash soup and duck prosciutto was followed by pan-roasted barramundi, a fish from Australia; melon relish; lemon risotto; and asparagus tips. Desert was a nougat glace with fresh oranges.
Bush began his day with Howard at an elaborate welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn. Bush recalled how the two had met at the White House on Sept. 10, 2001 — the day before the terrorist attacks. "Our nations have stood together on every day afterwards," Bush told Howard.
At a midday news conference, Bush joked that he was making Howard work for his supper by answering reporters' questions before their official dinner.
"Before I feed him tonight, I'm going to feed him to you," Bush told reporters.
They were to end their day in the East Room listening to music by Kenny Chesney, singer, songwriter, and Entertainer of the Year for both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association.