White House Rolls Out Red Carpet for Arroyo

President Bush toasted Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (search)'s "unwavering" partnership in the war on terrorism on Monday, and rewarded her with a promise of a reciprocal visit.

White House officials said Bush was likely to add the Philippines to an Asia trip he has planned for this fall.

The toasts culminated an official state visit by Arroyo -- an honor Bush has been stingy in doling out during his 28-month presidency. She was just the third foreign leader to be honored in such a fashion.

Bush reminded 130 dinner guests that Arroyo was among the first to call him after Sept. 11, 2001. And, Bush said, "You have not wavered."

"For your leadership and friendship, I thank you," Bush said. He promised a visit "later this year, with you as my host."

Bush nodded as Arroyo said: "In a time of crisis, friends do not ask why, they ask how."

Arroyo, considerably shorter than Bush, stood on a box at his lectern in the State Dining Room to return the toast. "We've stood side by side at every crucial point in modern history," she said.

Bush held a morning news conference and an Oval Office meeting with Arroyo, At dusk, she and her husband, lawyer Jose Miguel T. Arroyo, glided up to the north entrance of the White House in a limousine, where Bush and first lady Laura Bush formally greeted them.

The two couples posed for photos, then walked slowly into the East Room as the President's Own U.S. Marine Band played "Hail to the Chief." President Arroyo wore a purple dress with a lime-green sash, Laura Bush a shimmering golden gown. The men were clad in tuxedos, with Bush sporting a vest.

Opera singer Susan Graham (search) warmed up in the East Room as the White House put the finishing touches on the State Dining Room. Graham later capped the night with selections from Mozart, Gershwin and Copland.

Bouquets of pink and white peonies graced each table and flanked a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Beneath Lincoln were the two head tables -- one Laura Bush and Jose Miguel T. Arroyo, one for the presidents. Each setting had four glasses: two for wine, two for water. President Bush's set had just one glass. He led the toast with water in his glass.

Assistant White House chef Cris Comerford, born in the Philippines and now a U.S. citizen, said she sought common ground between the two nations as she prepared the menu. "It was like a marriage of the two countries," she told reporters before the dinner.

For instance, Maryland and the Philippines are both known for crabs, featured in the first course, she said. Mango sorbets, filled with coconut mousse, were draped with brightly colored leis made of sugar and chocolate, said pastry chef Roland Mesnier.

The main course included lamb, achiote polenta, fava beans and cipollini onion.

The wines were a 2001 Pride Mountain Viognier and a 2000 DuMol Pinot Noir "Finn," both from California, said White House usher Daniel Shanks. Shanks said he goes out of his way to find American wines, and did not try to keep French wines off the White House tables.

Bush has hosted far fewer state dinners than his recent predecessors, but the staff didn't seem to miss a beat as it cranked up the glamour for 130 guests, most of them officials of the U.S. and Philippine governments. Also on the guest list were Angela Perez Baraquio (search), Miss America 2001, whose parents are from the Philippines; broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw; and boxer Brian Viloria.

Gold-rimmed ivory china selected by former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton sat at each place setting, a napkin with the American eagle seal resting on top. The gilded silver Vermeil flatware matched the plates' gold bands and shone brightly over deep rose tablecloths. Candy dishes held gold-wrapped mint chocolates that were pressed inside the White House.

White House chief usher Gary Walters said the rarity of state dinners did not heighten the excitement for the staff.

"I don't know how in the world you can make a state dinner any more exciting or tension-building -- they're all the same," Walters said. "It's a head of state that we're celebrating here, that the president has invited to the room, and it's very important that we do it and do it right."

As he spoke, White House staff workers finished unfurling the red carpet leading into the State Dining Room.