Obama, Cameron Underscore Ties At News Conference

British Prime Minister David Cameron is in Washington for talks at the White House.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Back in Washington, the British flag is flying over the White House grounds. British Prime Minister David Cameron is visiting President Obama.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on topics, serious and light, that they discussed in a joint news conference.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Every aspect of this visit is designed to show just how very special the relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain is. Yesterday, President Obama took Prime Minister Cameron to Dayton, Ohio, for an NCAA basketball game. Cameron is the first world leader to fly with this president on Air Force One.

Today, Mr. Obama explained that the game was in return for a table tennis match that the leaders played against some students during Mr. Obama's visit to London last year.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As they would say in Britain, we got thrashed. So when it came to sports on this visit, I thought it would be better if we just watched.

SHAPIRO: Prime Minister Cameron stood at an adjacent podium in the Rose Garden under huge, flowering magnolia trees.

DAVID CAMERON: Because I know America doesn't like being on the losing side, I'm trying to make up to you with the gift of a table tennis table, which I hope will be there in the White House...

OBAMA: We should practice this afternoon.

CAMERON: I think - well, I certainly need the practice.

SHAPIRO: The U.S. and Britain have faced tough questions about whether they are on the losing side in Afghanistan. Lately, the war has produced a string of bad news. The U.S. and the U.K. have more troops in Afghanistan than anyone else. President Obama insisted, we're going to complete the mission.

OBAMA: We can't be naive about the difficulties that are going to be involved in getting there. But if we maintain a steady, responsible transition process - which is what we've designed - then I am confident that we can put Afghans in a position where they can deal with their own security.

SHAPIRO: That transition process involves a two-year drawdown. NATO plans to flesh out more details of the process at a Chicago summit in May. But President Obama said he does not expect any sudden changes to the plan. He also said American impatience with the war is only natural.

OBAMA: No one wants war. Anybody who answers a poll question about war, saying enthusiastically we want war, probably hasn't been involved in a war.

SHAPIRO: The question-and-answer session focused almost entirely on foreign affairs. On Iran, both men said they still believe there's time for diplomacy to work - but not much.

OBAMA: We will do everything we can to resolve this diplomatically. But ultimately, we've got to have somebody on the other side of the table who's taking this seriously. And I hope that the Iranian regime understands that.

SHAPIRO: The president also described the international effort to oust Syria's government. Although the death toll is in the thousands and rising steadily, Mr. Obama said he is not leaning toward the kind of military intervention that he advocated in Libya.

OBAMA: When we see what's happening on television, you know, our natural instinct is to act. One of the things that I think both of us have learned in every one of these crises, including in Libya, is that it's very important for us to make sure that we have thought through all of our actions before we take those steps.

SHAPIRO: Tonight, the president hosts a formal state dinner for the prime minister and his wife. Even the menu is about fostering the special U.S.-U.K. relationship. For the main course: the English classic Beef Wellington, substituting American bison for the beef.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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