Barack Obama on Wednesday held talks with David Cameron, UK prime minister, on Afghanistan, Syria and Iran, after presiding over a lavish White House ceremony to mark the “indispensable” US-UK partnership.

Mr Obama said the two countries “stand together, work together, bleed together” to make the world better and safer, at a South Lawn ceremony attended by thousands of local residents and expats.

Mr Cameron stressed the investment flows between the two countries, which he said dwarfed those between the UK and US and China.

The British premier joked that the military guard of honour made the White House “better defended” than it was 200 years ago when a British raiding party burned it to the ground.

The official visit and state dinner – the only such events planned by Mr Obama this year – marked what both leaders claimed was a high point in the transatlantic relationship.

The welcome ceremony, bathed in unseasonably warm spring sunshine, was a mutually advantageous reaffirmation of the “special relationship”.

For Mr Obama it was a useful reminder in election year that he has strong allies with democratic credentials; for British leaders, such events are a sprinkling of political gold dust.

● Getting the gifts right is a vital part of the “special relationship” – or the “essential relationship” as it is now called by David Cameron and Barack Obama, writes George Parker.

In 2009 there was humiliation for Gordon Brown when Mr Obama gave him a DVD box set of American films, available on Amazon for about $50.

To make matters worse the DVDs did not work on a British format machine.

Meanwhile, Mr Brown had painstakingly chosen for Mr Obama an ornamental desk pen holder made from the oak timbers of Victorian anti-slavery ship.

This time Mr Cameron gave the Obamas a table tennis table, while the US president reciprocated with a “one of a kind” barbecue set.

The gifts were a reminder of the Obamas’ visit to London last year, which included a table tennis match and a cookout in the Downing Street garden. Both were good photo-opportunities: it is less clear whether Mr Cameron actually likes burgers or Mr Obama ping-pong.

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