President Obama formally welcomed British Prime Minister David Cameron to the White House on Wednesday for a day of bilateral meetings and a state dinner in the evening. They will hold a joint news conference at 12:05 p.m.

With a 19-gun salute before a crowd of 7,000 on the South Lawn, the president and first lady Michelle Obama greeted Cameron and his wife Samantha, who was making her first formal foreign trip.

View Photo Gallery: Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife come to the United States for a two-day visit that includes, among other activities, attending the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

In his remarks, Obama paid homage to the close relationship between the two nations since a rougher patch 200 years ago during the War of 1812, when British troops attempted to burn down the White House.

“You really lit up the place,” Obama joked. “But we moved on.”

On a more serious note, the two leaders talked about their shared goals of promoting freedom and liberty across the globe, and their shared military mission in Afghanistan and other conflicts.

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron participate in an official arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday. (Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

Cameron called the nations “kindred spirits” and traced their partnership back to “defeating the Nazis.”

“There is nothing more tangible than the mutual sacrifice made by our service men and women,” Cameron said.

Indeed, a discussion of the Afghanistan war strategy is high on the agenda during the bilateral meetings, in the wake of recent setbacks. White House officials said that the recent killings of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. servicemember will not alter the timeline for the United States troops to withdrawal from the country by 2014 and turn over security to Afghan forces.

But there was little doubt that Obama and Cameron get along well. The president had taken the prime minister to a college basketball game in Ohio on Tuesday night, and Obama joked that Cameron wants to install a hoop at his home at 10 Downing Street in London.

Cameron later replied that Obama had taught him some new slang: “alley oop,” “brackets,” and “fast breaks.”

As a welcome gift, the Obamas presented the Camerons with a one-of-a-kind, handmade Braten 1000 Series Grill hand made by Engelbrecht Grills and Cookers of Paxton, Ill. The wood- and charcoal-burning grill is customized with American and British flags engraved into the utility shelf, and the gift is intended to commemorate the Obamas’ visit to Downing Street last May when they grilled and served food to American and British service members, the White House said.

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