President Obama and British Prime
Minister David Cameron were headed to a college basketball game
Tuesday in an informal start to two days of meetings between the
leaders of one of the world's closest alliances.
The game in Dayton, Ohio, is a first-round match-up between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky universities in the 64-team tournament to crown a US collegiate basketball champion.
The nationwide, three-week tournament -- known as March Madness for the rabid enthusiasm of college sports fans -- thrives on a mix of regional rivalries, Cinderella upsets and clashes between the top basketball powers, whose best players are quickly snapped up by the NBA. The Final Four, as the semi-finals and finals are known, is a three-day event eclipsed in American sports only by the Super Bowl.
Cameron landed Tuesday outside Washington with his wife, Samantha, who is making her first major overseas trip with her husband.
They were expected later at the White House, before the men planned to jet to the basketball game via Air Force One, with Samantha Cameron and First Lady Michelle Obama staying behind.
An official reception for the Camerons was planned for Wednesday at the White House, with a state banquet in the evening.
Obama spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that the US-Anglo alliance was "an extraordinarily important relationship," calling Britain "a key ally across the globe."
In a joint Op-ed piece published Tuesday in the Washington Post, Obama and Cameron recalled their countries' shared struggle in World War II and coordinated efforts to secure peace ever since: "Put simply, we count on each other, and the world counts on our alliance."
Obama and Cameron condemned the "horrific violence" by the Syrian regime against civilian opposition. "With our international partners, we'll continue to tighten the noose around Bashar al-Assad and his cohorts," the two leaders wrote.
A wide-ranging agenda was expected to include the impact of the Arab Spring, in which the U.S. and Britain participated in an international alliance to protect Libyan civilians last year during the overthrow of that country's former leader Moamer Gaddafi.
The NATO-led effort to secure Afghanistan is another key issue for their meetings, after Sunday's slayings of 16 civilians by an alleged rogue US soldier in Kandahar province.
In the international effort to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons capability, sharpening economic sanctions against the country leaves Tehran with a choice, Obama and Cameron wrote: "Meet your international obligations or face the consequences."
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