Washington (CNN) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, praising what she called the special U.S.-Indian relationship, welcomed Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Vice President Joe Biden to a formal lunch at the State Department Tuesday.
"You are the hottest ticket in town," Biden told Singh in remarks at the start of the lunch. The Indian leader will be honored at a White House state dinner Tuesday evening.
Clinton praised the relationship between the two countries, adding that India - like the U.S. - is what she called a "diverse" and "occasionally raucous democracy."
Singh, whose visit comes as the Obama administration is finalizing its policy on Afghanistan, made his feelings clear. "We have a common stake in peace and security in Afghanistan," he said. And he told Clinton, "Your visit to India in July has prepared the groundwork for a greatly strengthened strategic partnership between our two countries."
Two hundred senior U.S. and Indian officials and other dignitaries gathered in the Ben Franklin room on the eighth floor of the State Department building for the lunch.
Dark-suited Americans mingled with men in brightly colored turbans and women in flowing saris as guests sat at tables decorated with arrangements of fragrant geraniums, roses and peonies set on cinnamon and burgundy table-cloths.
Singh sat at a large oval table with Clinton; Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Connecticut.