WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Imran Khan is going to the United States on an official working visit, which includes a meeting with the US president at the White House.
This will, however, not be a state visit as those are only for the head of state — presidents and monarchs — and not for the head of government, such as a prime minister.
State visits are very rare, only a handful in a US president’s four-year tenure.
The US State Department, which keeps a record of all such events — ranks the visits by foreign leaders into five categories: a “state visit,” an “official visit,” an “official working visit,” a “working visit,” and a “private visit.”
A “state visit” is the highest ranking visit and can only be offered to a chief of state and must be at the invitation of the US president. During a state visit, the guest is offered a room for four days and three nights at Blair House, the president’s official guest house, located within walking distance of the White House. A state visit includes a meeting with the US president, a state dinner at the White House, a full honours arrival and departure ceremony on the south grounds of the White House, and a 21-gun salute. Gifts may be exchanged and spouses can attend the ceremonies and dinners. Press availability and photo opportunities are plentiful.
Ayub, Zia are the only leaders from Pakistan to have paid state visits
The next is the “official visit” offered to a head of government and must be at the invitation of the US president. The guest stays at Blair House for four days and three nights, is entitled to a meeting with the US president, a full honours arrival and departure ceremony on the south grounds of the White House, a 19-gun salute and an official dinner at the White House. Gifts may be exchanged and spouses can attend the ceremonies and dinners.
An “official working visit” is offered to either a chief of state or the head of a government and must be extended by the US president himself. Blair House, if available, can be offered for two nights and three days, unlike an official visit when the US administration ensures its availability.
The guest is entitled to a meeting with the president, followed by a working luncheon at the White House. A dinner or reception is possible, but not necessary. Since the US Secretary of State attends the working luncheon, no separate meeting is arranged. There is no ceremony upon arrival and departure. The press is usually granted some photo opportunities and occasionally there is a press conference. There is no gift exchange and spouses do not attend the luncheon.
A working visit is extended to a chief of state or head of government at the invitation of the US president and includes a meeting with the president at the White House, but without a luncheon, dinner or formal press availability. There is no gift exchange and spouses do not attend the event.
A private visit involves a chief of state, head of government, foreign minister or any other government official who arrives in the US without the invitation of the US president. The visitor may request a meeting with the president and if it is granted, it is often referred to as a “working session”. Blair House is not offered and spouses do not attend the session. There is no gift exchange and no official press availability, although photo opportunities may be possible.
During a state or official visit, the visiting head of state or chief of government is often invited to address a joint meeting of the US Congress.
Moreover during a “state visit” lamp posts on Pennsylvania Avenue are decorated with the visiting state’s flag, as well as that of the United States and the District of Columbia. The flag of the visiting state is also displayed over the East Executive Avenue entrance to the Eisenhower Executive Building.
According to the US State Department’s record book, President Ayub Khan made two “state visits” to the US, July 11–14, 1961 and Dec 14–16, 1965. Another military ruler, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, also made a “state visit” to the US from Dec 6–9, 1982.
Gen Pervez Musharraf has had the highest number of meetings with US presidents: nine, including those during the UN General Assembly in New York. All his visits to Washington were either “official working” or “working” visits. He never got a state or an official visit.
The highest honour for a head of government — an “official visit” — was offered to Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. ZAB made two official visits to Washington — Sept 18–20, 1973 and Feb 4–7, 1975 — while Benazir Bhutto made an official visit from June 5 to 7, 1989 and official working visit, from April 9 to 11, 1995.
Among civilian rulers, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had the highest number of meetings with US presidents: six, including three official working visits and one working visit. He never had an official visit.
Mr Sharif also discussed the Kargil crisis with President Bill Clinton during a private visit on July 4–5, 1999. He is the last Pakistani ruler to visit Washington since 2015 when he went on an official working visit on Oct 22.
Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2019