WASHINGTON --President Barack Obama is reserving his final state dinner for the prime minister of Italy, providing star treatment to a key ally who soon faces a critical leadership test at home.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama formally welcomed Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife to the United States with a grand arrival ceremony on the South Lawn.
The ceremony marks the beginning of a long day of meetings, statements and a press conference by Obama and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
The ceremony features the performance of national anthems, the two leaders reviewing military honor guards and personally greeting many in attendance, and brief remarks.
The White House says Obama wants to use the visit and final state dinner of his presidency to memorialize the strong ties between Italy and U.S. and "put wind in the sails" of a young leader that Obama views as a promising political
The official visit and state dinner for Renzi on Tuesday will be a glitzy affair that features celebrity chef Mario Batali in the kitchen and singer Gwen Stefani performing after the dinner.
White House officials describe the two political leaders as ideologically sharing a great deal of common ground, most notably their belief in the importance of a strongly integrated Europe.
Britain's decision to exit the European Union is testing that vision, and a Dec. 4 referendum in Italy on the government's proposed overhaul of the constitution could derail Renzi's political future if it fails.