Defence, energy, trade to top agenda of Obama’s India visit

Barack Obama and Narendra Modi in Washington, D.C. last year.  Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Barack Obama and Narendra Modi in Washington, D.C. last year.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Washington/New Delhi (IANS): US President Barack Obama arrives in India Sunday on a three-day state visit, which besides the symbolism of his being the first American president to be chief guest at the Republic Day parade is also likely to see “substantive outcomes” from talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on several issues, including defence, energy and trade.

Obama will be accompanied by his wife Michelle Obama and a high level delegation that includes, among others, Democratic minority House leader Nancy Pelosi and Ami Bera, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.

Ahead of his arrival in the Indian capital which is under a security lockdown in anticipation of the visit, has come news of the cancellation of the Agra leg of the presidential visit.

Obama and Michelle, who were supposed to see the Taj Mahal before flying back home Jan 27, are now to fly to Riyadh to condole the death of Saudi Arabia’s king Abdullah.

This is the second visit of Obama to India as president and the first time a US president is attending the Republic Day parade as chief guest.

After his arrival at 10 a.m. in New Delhi, Obama would be accorded a ceremonial reception in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. He would then go to Rajghat to pay homage at the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi.

Obama would later head to Hyderabad House for bilateral discussions, which would be held in a restricted format. After the talks, Modi is hosting a luncheon for Obama and his delegation, during which delegation level talks would be held, the spokesperson said.

The topics of discussion will include business climate, trade and investment, climate change and energy, defence and security cooperation, regional global issues, Afghanistan and terrorism.

Sunday evening, Obama would meet President Pranab Mukherjee who is to host a banquet in his honour.

On Jan 26, Obama will attend the Republic Day parade at Rajpath as the chief guest – during which India’s military might and cultural diversity will be showcased in a two-hour open air event.

In the evening, he would attend the At Home reception on the expansive lawns of Rashtrapati Bhavan hosted by the president.

Obama and Modi will also address business events.

On the last day of the visit Jan 27, Obama would address a select audience at the Siri Fort auditorium on “India and America: The future we can build together” in the morning.

Modi and Obama would interact on at least seven different occasions during the three-day visit.

The two are also to record a joint ‘Mann ki Baat’ to be broadcast on All India Radio Jan 27, in a different take from the joint article they had penned in the Washington Post during Modi’s visit to the US in September.

Ahead of his visit, Obama in an email interview to India Today magazine, exuded hope about enhanced ties with “natural partner” India, saying he would like to think that the stars are aligned to finally realise his vision of the two countries being “global partners”.

He has also spoken strongly on terror emanating from Pakistan, saying that Washington has made it clear that “even as the US works with Pakistan to meet the threat of terrorism, safe havens within Pakistan are not acceptable and that those behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks must face justice”.

Obama has also voiced support for India’s membership in a reformed UN Security Council.

On ways to improve the bilateral relationship, Obama said the specific areas in which both can improve ties included creating jobs, improving education and creating more opportunities, including for women.

He also called for reducing the barriers to trade, investment and high-tech collaboration.

The White House has termed the invite to Obama for the Republic Day a “genuine honour” and said he was very interested in injecting a new energy and vitality into the US-India relationship.

Obama “is looking forward to see the festivities associated with Republic Day first hand”, his press secretary Josh Earnest said in Washington.

India’s Ambassador to the US, S. Jaishankar, has said Modi’s visit to Washington last year in September “really re-energized” the bilateral ties and the visit of Obama is set to “mark a new era in bilateral ties.

He said the “symbolism of both the invitation and the acceptance is very important; it takes the relationship to a different level because it is a very public acceptance of the fact today that the earlier era is behind us, that we have very strong common interests, convergences, a sense of bonding, that there are a lot of things that we can do together and that we are willing to signal that very publicly to our peoples,” the envoy said in a radio programme.

Jaishankar said he is “really very confident the visit will mark a new era in our ties”.