Biden, world leaders, head to the Queen’s funeral

LONDON – The Japanese emperor, who lives in luxury at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, will ride a crowded shuttle bus to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on Monday.

But while Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako were elated about mass transportation, some other world leaders did not, especially since President Biden and a few select people will arrive in their own armored vehicles.

“They all prefer to have their own cars,” said a weary British government official, one of hundreds of staff at the Queen’s funeral.

Putting the world’s most famous woman to rest has turned into a formidable diplomatic challenge. The 23 royals will sit in the front rows of Westminster Abbey, in front of President Biden and about 90 other presidents and prime ministers, as protocol dictates.

Leaders from nearly 200 countries and territories traveling to London have been strongly encouraged to take commercial flights due to the complexity of scheduling landing times around the same time at airports still understaffed due to the coronavirus pandemic. But many private jets are coming anyway.

Intense negotiations are taking place behind the scenes in an area called “the Barn” in the British Foreign Office. Hundreds of people are working on requests from about 500 foreign dignitaries who will attend the funeral.

There were already diplomatic differences. Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, has prevented a Chinese delegation from attending this week’s public display of the Queen’s sarcophagus at Westminster Hall.

Hoyle noted China’s decision to refuse to allow some British politicians to travel to China because they criticized Beijing’s treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman responded sharply: “As the host, the British side should abide by diplomatic etiquette and hospitality.”

Vice President Wang Qishan is leading the Chinese delegation. President Xi Jinping was invited but declined.

Almost every country or territory that has diplomatic relations with Britain is invited. Some did not make the list, including Russia, Belarus and Myanmar, on the Ukraine war and human rights abuses. A few countries, including Iran, North Korea, and Nicaragua, have been invited to send an ambassador, but not their head of state.

The invitation includes a reception at Buckingham Palace hosted by King Charles III on Sunday night and another reception just after the funeral.

Olena Zelenska, wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is attending, but her husband is not expected to attend.

British officials said they were not sure if Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would attend. US intelligence officials have said that Mohammed bin Salman, as he is known, was behind the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a contributing writer for the Washington Post.

Khashoggi’s fiancée said his presence would be a “disgrace” in the queen’s memory.

Queen Elizabeth II personally met many of those who will attend her funeral. I have traveled to more than 100 countries. In many cases she met several generations of leaders.

Many of the guests will be in their 80s and even 90s, and how quickly and comfortably they will be seated is extensively planned.

For example, King Philip VI of Spain, 54, and Queen Letizia, 50, will come. So are the king’s parents, former King Juan Carlos I, 84, and his wife, former Queen Sofia, 83, who was also known as Elizabeth.

VIP guests are making a steady stream of special requests. Some asked to bring their doctor, others a personal assistant. Some have requested a private room in which they can rest.

“You can’t issue a blanket ‘no’, but nine times out of ten it counts as a ‘no’,” the official said. “But we want everyone to make a good impression.”

One exception: the interpreters. Chinese Vice President Wang, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and a few others requested an interpreter because they do not speak English. Fewer than ten of those requests were accepted, but only for receptions – not for the funeral itself, where space would be severely limited.

Having so many world leaders in one place provides rare opportunities for them to speak without aides and auditors, said Capricia Marshall, the former chief of US protocol in the Obama administration.

“They don’t have anyone else to talk to but each other, and they’re taking advantage of that,” Marshall said.

Marshall said states usually send lower-ranking officials to funerals and other events.

Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the US, said she believes Biden is the first US president to attend a British state funeral. The last state funeral was in 1965 for Winston Churchill and Lyndon Johnson, and they were both hospitalized around that time.

Former British Ambassador to the United States Peter Westmacott noted that there is always the potential for things to go wrong between leaders who have strong personal or national differences. But he said the Queen’s death had caused an “outbreak of civility”.

He cited Macron, the French president who has many disagreements with Britain over Brexit, the United Kingdom’s departure from Europe, and personal differences with new Prime Minister Liz Truss and her predecessor, Boris Johnson.

“He’s pretty crazy with Liz Truss and Boris Johnson,” Westmacott said. But look at the beautiful things he was saying about the Queen and the relationship between Britain and France.

In the end, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to come after he was told he couldn’t be his presidential car – an exception to rules granted only to Biden, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and two others.

This call was made based on security concerns. “It has nothing to do with the special relationship or politics,” the British official said.

When the British refused Erdogan’s request, he decided to send his foreign minister in his place.

For many Britons, the idea of ​​spoiled princesses and world leaders jumping on the bus is just plain amusing.

“All world leaders are on a field trip,” British comedian Jimmy Carr said when asked by the Washington Post about his thoughts. “And you know who’s actually in charge? For 45 minutes, the world leader is the bus driver. ‘My bus, my rules! Sit in the back. North Korea, get along with South Korea. Sit down! China, what are you doing in the back? Sit!”‘

Carr agreed with protocol experts that bus time provided opportunities.

“I think more can be done on that bus in 40 minutes than has been done at the United Nations in the last 40 years. Maybe Israel and Palestine sit next to each other on the bus and go, ‘You know what, we have a lot in common. What did you bring for lunch?'” Oh Palestine? Hummus? Well, I have some bread. Let’s do it.'”

Michael Birnbaum in Washington and Lily Ku in Taipei contributed to this report.

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