- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2000

The White House last night hosted the largest formal dinner of the Clinton administration, with 436 guests helping welcome the 37-year-old Moroccan monarch, King Mohammed VI, on his first visit here as his country's head of state.

In his toast, President Clinton praised Morocco and its leader enthusiastically, saying "no foreign guest is more deserving of a warm welcome here" and recalled how Morocco had been the first country to recognize the United States when the original 13 states declared themselves a nation.

A treaty of friendship between America and Morocco "is the oldest American treaty of its kind enforced today," he reminded the crowd. He also announced the creation of a scholarship program in memory of the late King Hassan II for Moroccan students to come to America "to study subjects close to the king's heart."

King Mohammed VI, who spoke in English but began and ended his toast with some brief words in Arabic, echoed Mr. Clinton's message by praising his own country's cultural identity and place in the world. Both men pledged efforts to work toward Middle East peace. "My heart is set on this ideal," he noted.

"He's a superstar," Joseph Verner Reed, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco in 1981 to 1985, said of the king. "He has been trained from the cradle to be king and leader of 28 million people as well as being spiritual commander of the faithful."

The king, a Muslim, toasted in water; Mr. Clinton had wine. The king was accompanied by his sister, Princess Lalla Meryem. Chelsea Clinton was present but did not appear in the receiving line.

Dinner took place under an ethereal champagne-colored tent on the South Lawn. The tent with its glowing chandeliers and rose-filled damask-covered tables may have been a far cry from those associated with the vastness of interior North Africa.

Not so the king's gift to the president: a gold, diamond and emerald dagger. Mr. Clinton played it safer with his traditional signature gift of a Tiffany sterling silver cache pot featuring designs from the White House interior.

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton got special attention this time. The king brought her a choice of five Moroccan-made gowns to wear for the occasion. She chose a flattering gold-and-cream lace model known as a takchita.

The king's tastes were more than satisfied by a Mediterranean-themed menu that had reminders of his homeland in every course and challenged a kitchen staff by having to be served 200 yards from the White House kitchen.

An African peppercorn called "grains of paradise" was used to spice salmon presented with a golden tomato gazpacho "a cool first course," Mr. Scheib said at an afternoon preview.

Next came lamb flavored with the zest of salt-cured lemons. Salad was accompanied by a warm goat cheese tart and mission fig dressing. The dessert spectacular, called "A Moroccan Oasis" and dreamed up by pastry chef Roland Messnier, featured a replica in chocolate of a king's palace.

The youthful king's request to hear the famed musical group Earth, Wind and Fire brought Maurice White, one of its founders, out of retirement just for the night. He flew in from Los Angeles to join 16 others in the band who performed some of their hit songs.

An official dinner last year for Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel had 520 on the guest list but was not a full-blown state dinner, which implies more formal protocol and more elaborate gifts.

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