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Photograph: EPA/WILL OLIVER

US President Barack Obama praised the relationship between the US and five Nordic allies during a state visit on Friday, saying the world would be a better place with more countries like Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.

"Around the world America's closest partners are democracies and we only need to look at our Nordic friends to see why," Obama said, praising them for their commitment to human rights, global engagement and strong social safety nets.

Obama was hosting five Nordic leaders at the White House on Friday for talks on issues including climate change, counterterrorism efforts and the European refugee crisis.

Obama welcomed Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen and Icelandic Prime Minister Sigurour Ingi Johannsson at a pomp-filled welcome ceremony.

The formal welcome of the leaders was moved indoors due to weeks of rain in Washington, and Obama joked that the lack of sunshine was something the leaders were accustomed to for weeks on end in the northern nations.

He will also host a rare joint state dinner for the guests Friday evening.

The leaders of Norway and Finland thanked Obama for leading international action on climate change, a major point of discussion during the talks Friday.

"We are grateful for the leadership the US has shown in combating the most existential threat in the world, that is climate change, and for focusing attention in the Arctic where we are pratically neighbours," said Niinisto.

Solberg said US efforts were key in reaching the international climate agreement in Paris last year, noting "US leadership is needed in ensuring the future of the planet."

The leaders also called for joint action on trade, as the US and European Union negotiate a free trade deal, and for security cooperation through NATO in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

"These are all countries that the United States has important working relationships with," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, noting the visit provided an opportunity for Obama to repay the leaders for hosting him in Europe.

The White House also noted the nations' involvement in the fight against Islamic State and the effort by many to host refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Obama will discuss the impact of the refugee crisis on national politics in those countries and "encourage them as they offer up that much-needed humanitarian relief," Earnest said.

Despite the countries' relatively small size, Obama views them as “punching above their weight," and Earnest dismissed any suggestion that hosting the leaders as a group rather than individually could be seen as a snub.

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