Shaikh Khalifa (centre) inspects members of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards during a ceremonial welcome in the grounds of Windsor castle, in Berkshire, west of London on April 30, 2013. Image Credit: Reuters

London: In a strong show of the long-standing relations between the UAE and the United Kingdom and historic ties between the ruling families in the two nations, the town of Windsor was for the most of the day yesterday in a festive mood as President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan began a two day state visit to Britain.

It is the first visit by a UAE president in 24 years and signals the two nations’ commitment to further develop relations in all fields, the President and hostess Queen Elizabeth declared yesterday.

The highlight of the first day of the visit was a formal state banquet at Windsor Castle. Earlier the President was visited at his private residence at Richmond, just west of London, by Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. Shaikh Khalifa and the Duke, with the UAE delegation accompanying the President and British escorts, then left by car for the short journey to the outskirts of the town of Windsor. The President was met at midday by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at a specially-raised royal saluting platform on Datchet Road facing the imposing historic castle, which has been a royal residence for nearly 1,000 years.

Following the traditional royal gun salutes, the Queen and Shaikh Khalifa, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, were then escorted to an open horse-drawn carriage for a procession through the streets of Windsor, escorted by the Sovereign’s Escort. Other members of the UAE delegation and senior British officials followed in other carriages.

Soldiers from the Grenadier Guards and Scots Guards, two of the most famous regiments in the British Army, lined the streets in the town, which were decorated with the UAE and British flags. As the procession entered Windsor Castle, Shaikh Khalifa, accompanied by the Duke, inspected the Guard of Honour.

Speaking at the state lunch in the castle, Shaikh Khalifa stressed the special relations between the two countries. "As the long-standing and historical relations between our two countries continues to develop positively in all fields, I would like to express my deep gratitude for your cordial visit to the United Arab Emirates in 2010 which left such a good impression on us," he said.

"We shall strive to develop further the long-established bilateral relations that exist between the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom in all fields, in order to achieve the interest of our two friendly countries. Indeed, it is my hope that this current visit serves to reinforce our deep-rooted and steadfast friendship that has continued for many many years," the President concluded.

On her part, the Queen also paid tribute to the historic ties binding the two countries and their ruling families. "I am delighted to welcome you to Windsor Castle this afternoon as we celebrate your State visit to the United Kingdom. Our two countries have been close friends since before the foundation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971, under the wise guidance and leadership of your late father, Shaikh Zayed," she said.

"Our friendship draws strength from the continuing links between our Royal families, our governments, and our peoples. And it is based on a shared sense of ambition. I hope, Your Highness, that as a result of this Visit, our two nations will build on this historical and successful foundation and continue to work together to create a more productive and secure future," she added.

Today, the President will be meeting Prime Minister David Cameron where they will be discussing bilateral relations and regional and international developments. A number of agreements, including a UAE investment in a Green Investment Bank, and in the British energy sector in addition to a memorandum of understanding covering a wide range of issues of mutual interests, will be signed, according to officials here.

With inputs from WAM