WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 -- President Bill Clinton on Tuesday honored South African President Nelson Mandela at a celebrity-studded formal White House state dinner, toasting the former political prisoner as a worldwide ideal of strength and grace in the face of incivility and violence. 'You have been a genuine inspiration to the American people and to freedom-loving people around the world,' Clinton told Mandela as he raised his glass to some 188 guests seated for dinner in the East Room. 'People still marvel at the price you paid for your conviction.' Clinton also praised Mandela for making sure that South Africa's white minority still felt welcome in his country, and urged Americans and people worldwide still struggling with racial and ethnic divisions to 'watch South Africa as it comes together, and follow South Africa's example.' Mandela in turn thanked his many U.S. supporters and invited Clinton to reciprocate with his own state visit to South Africa. The South African leader, who spent nearly three decades in prison under his country's racially exclusive apartheid government, was making his second visit to the White House. 'As we break bread together within the venerable confines of this famous symbol of democracy, we are reminded of that which binds us, particularly the pursuit of freedom, justice and equality,' Mandela said. The two presidents sat at the center of the head table along with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mandela's daughter, Zinzi Mandela- Hlongwane. The dinner was held in the East Room rather than the more traditional venue, the State Dining Room, because of a huge guest list that covered a wide cross-section of political, civil rights, business and entertainment figures.
It included Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, Randall Robinson, Maya Angelou, Joseph Lowery, Vernon Jordan, IBM Chairman Louis Gerstner Jr. and H.J. Heinz Chairman Anthony J. O'Reilly, entertainment stars Whitney Houston, Harry Belafonte and Blair Underwood, and the mayors of New York City, Baltimore, Denver, Seattle and Atlanta. Houston wrapped up the Mandelas' evening with a brief repertoire of her hit songs under a large, enclosed tent in the Rose Garden. She concluded with 'Greatest Love of All,' followed by a series of blown kisses toward the South African president. The Clintons, after seeing off the Mandelas amid an honor guard on the North Portico, returned back inside to join their remaining guests on the dance floor, where they danced to 'Heard It Through the Grapevine.' Hillary Clinton, who wore a full-length blue gown, said during a brief tour of the preparations prior to the dinner that she expected 'a very warm, exciting, fun evening.' The first lady said the small size of the White House forced organizers to turn away many requests for invitations, but also offered a more intimate setting. The dinner menu featured halibut with a sesame crust carrot juice broth, and included layered late summer vegetables with lemongrass and red curry, bibb, endive, and watercress with New York wild ripened cheese. Dessert consisted of grandilla sherbert, lychees and raspberries, apple sabayon and cookies. The wine list consisted of 1993 Joseph Phelps Viognier, 1991 Peter Michael Chardonnay and 1985 Piper Sonoma Tete de Cuvee. Hillary Clinton said she and the White House chef had traded menu ideas for about a month. 'It is wonderfully healthy' and selected to showcase 'healthy American cuisine,' she said of the meal. Asked how she wanted the Clinton entertainment style to be defined, she replied: 'Comfortable tradition. Elegance and joy. I don't want anyone to forget the significance of attending a state dinner in this house...but I also want people to have a good time, to feel comfortable and welcome. We want it to be well done but fun.'