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Why Biden Is Rolling Out the Red Carpet for British PM Rishi Sunak

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As Rishi Sunak arrived in Washington on Wednesday for his first White House visit as U.K. Prime Minister, it became clear that his relationship with Joe Biden has improved significantly since the U.S. President mistakenly called him “Rashi Sanook” just months earlier.

On Thursday, Biden, 80, and Sunak, 43, will meet for the fifth time since the latter’s appointment in October, when he became the U.K.’s third Prime Minister in a particularly tumultuous year for the nation. Since then, the leaders have crossed paths during the G20 summit, marked the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, and attended a defense meeting with Australia’s Prime Minister in San Diego, as well as the G7 summit in Japan.

But their latest meeting is being viewed as a more intentional display of allyship. “Britain is really important to the U.S. and sometimes it risks being taken for granted but if you look at every major security issue—defense, intelligence, China, Russia, technology—the U.S. and the U.K. are side by side,” says Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and the Americas program at Chatham House.

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And the importance of that allyship will be on display with the favorable reception Sunak will receive in Washington compared with his recent predecessors.

The two-day trip will see Sunak staying at Blair House, the President’s official guesthouse, which resides just across the way from White House. Sunak is the first Prime Minister since David Cameron, who led the U.K. from 2010 to 2016, to be invited to stay in what has been dubbed “the world’s most exclusive hotel.”

During the short visit, Sunak will also deliver a rare joint press conference with Biden, and attend a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Both the President and First Lady Jill Biden are keen baseball fans who support the Phillies, so Sunak’s invitation adds a personal touch to what has been described as a “friendship event.” Sunak will not, however, take on the honor of throwing the ceremonial first pitch.

As Biden rolls out the red carpet for Sunak, here’s what to know.

What does the trip represent for Sunak and Biden?

While the stakes are expectedly higher for Britain during this visit, due to the U.S.’ outsized global influence, both leaders could bolster their political messaging to domestic and international audiences ahead of upcoming elections.

“For Sunak, it’s an opportunity to be seen as an international statesman, someone who’s trying to boost Britain economically by striking deals, not necessarily trade deals, but investment deals with other countries,” says Anand Menon, director of the U.K. in a Changing Europe think-tank and a professor at King’s College London.

The trip will provide ample opportunities for Sunak to be photographed next to Biden, which Menon notes is helpful for the Prime Minister’s global image, but also presents a message of a united Western alliance. “For Biden, it’s part of a broader multilateral diplomacy he is going to be undertaking,” Menon adds.

For Biden, a united front with Britain also poses an opportunity to remind Americans that Europe is also playing a leading role in supporting Ukraine as its counteroffensive gathers pace. “Having himself and the Prime Minister alongside each other, visibly speaking to that commitment, is very good for Biden in the current context,” Vinjamuri says.

What will Biden and Sunak discuss?

While a full trade deal between the U.S. remains off the table, top of the agenda will likely be cooperation talks about the ongoing war in Ukraine, investment in green industries, and the regulation of artificial intelligence. “Just as interoperability between our militaries has given us a battlefield advantage over our adversaries, greater economic interoperability will give us a crucial edge in the decades ahead,” Sunak said in a statement ahead of the talks.

Sunak also said he expects to discuss Biden’s flagship $370 billion investment package in green industries that aim to cut carbon emissions. But select British ministers have been critical of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, saying that is harmful to world trade.

Vinjamuri says that with trade a top focus, Sunak could speak to his domestic audience if he can deliver on a minerals deal or across digital trade. “If he can take one of those things that’s on a new emerging technology, or that speaks to the Inflation Reduction Act, or protects Britain’s automobile industry, and deliver that as a win, that will certainly be a really important thing for the Prime Minister,” she adds.

Are British-American relations at a strong point?

Despite the amount of face time the two leaders will have with each other, Menon believes this is more likely due to “happenstance” than a particularly thriving personal relationship between Biden and Sunak.

Vinjamuri says that relations are rather mixed at the moment. “Cooperation on things that matter most: Ukraine, Russia, China, is at a high point, but it’s not at a high point, in terms of the two leaders,” she says. “The U.S. hasn’t been thrilled about the instability and transitions in the U.K.”

She cites Brexit as a political event that strained U.K. and U.S. relations, because of its potential consequences on the U.S.-brokered 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of violence between unionists and republicans in Northern Ireland.

Despite this, Vinjamuri says Sunak, the first British Asian and Hindu Prime Minister, represents an opportunity for unique and more diverse relations with the U.S. “It goes some distance to rectify this view that Britain’s turned inwards, and is parochial and lacking a global vision,” she says. “The meeting is going to be a very nice moment symbolically.”

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Write to Armani Syed at armani.syed@time.com