Trump hopes rain won't dampen outdoor Australia state dinner

WASHINGTON (AP) — Daring the weather to interfere, President Donald Trump promised Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison "something very special" with a rare Rose Garden dinner under the stars Friday night. Plan B: take the White House state dinner party indoors in the unlikely event that raindrops start to fall.

"The first lady has done an incredible job tonight," Trump pronounced in advance, as he sat with Morrison in the Oval Office at midmorning. "The only thing that can dampen it would be rain and we're not expecting any rain. But if it rains, we head over to the State (Dining) Room and we'll be just fine."

The president and his wife, Melania, welcomed the leader from Down Under and his wife, Jenny, earlier Friday for the state visit with a spirited arrival ceremony on the South Lawn. The welcome featured Marine band performances of the two nations' anthems, a 19-gun salute and inspection of U.S. troops. Hundreds of guests, including school children waving miniature Australian and American flags, were on hand to welcome them.

The prime minister is just the second foreign leader to receive the high diplomatic honor of a U.S. state visit during Trump's administration.

After the arrival ceremony, Trump and Morrison went inside to begin their talks, the wives repaired to the Green Room for tea and White House staff began the work of transforming the famous garden just outside the Oval Office into the best open-air dining venue in town — if only for one night.

Guests will sit at a mix of round and rectangular tables draped in alternating yellow and green tablecloths in tribute to Australia's national colors and dine on sunchoke ravioli, Dover sole and apple tart a la mode. Temporary flooring was laid over the grass.

Dinner centerpieces feature more than 2,500 yellow California roses and Australia's national flower, the golden wattle, while the garden itself will be decorated with white and yellow roses. Musical groups from the U.S. military will provide entertainment.

Still unknown are the potential big names on the tightly held guest list, along with the designer and description of the first lady's evening gown. But the names of some of those who plan to attend have trickled out, including Australian golfer Greg Norman, a friend and sometime golf partner of Trump's; Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri; and Lachlan Murdoch, CEO of Fox Corp., the parent of Fox News Channel, one of the president's favored cable TV networks.

"It's so beautiful and it will be so different," Trump said about his first state dinner in more than a year, noting that he had watched a rehearsal. "And we look up to the skies and we're just going to hope that it's not going to rain. And if it is, that's OK, too, because that will work out also."

Morrison, who has been in office for a little over a year, thanked Trump for the "tremendous honor."

At an afternoon news conference in the grand East Room, Trump said he and the prime minister "talked about everything you can talk about," including military issues and trade. Morrison said he and the president share a "passion for jobs" and he commended Trump for his record on job creation.

Trump continued his musings about the dinner potentially being washed out.

"Based on all of that money we spend on all of that weather-predicting equipment, they're saying no chance of rain. Let's see if that's right," he said before asserting seconds later that "it's not going to rain. It's going to be a beautiful evening."

On a big day for diplomacy, Morrison and his wife also worked in a State Department luncheon hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Australia was last a recipient of a U.S. state visit in 2006, when President George W. Bush feted Prime Minister John Howard.

When it comes to state dinners, Trump seems to prefer being on the receiving end.

He's been the honored guest on state visits to Japan and Britain this year alone, in addition to other such visits in his first two years in office, including to Beijing on what China billed as a "state visit, plus."

Trump's first state visitor was French President Emmanuel Macron last year.

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AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson and Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann, Laurie Kellman and Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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