Obama, Michelle to miss Taj, travel to Riyadh instead

TAJ Mahal India

Agra/Washington (IANS): The much-anticipated visit by US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle to Agra to view the Taj Majal has been cancelled and the US first couple will instead head to Riyadh to condole the passing away of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the White House said Saturday.

Obama and Michelle “will travel to Riyadh Tuesday in order to pay respects to King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the family of the late king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz”, the White House said.

Obama arrives in India Sunday on a three-day visit. He was to visit Agra Jan 27.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement that Vice President Joe Biden was “originally to have led a delegation to Saudi Arabia on the president’s behalf”.

“As the president’s and vice president’s travel schedules became clearer, we determined that the window when the vice president would be on the ground in Riyadh coincided with the president’s departure from India.

“Accordingly, we adjusted the schedule in coordination with the Indian government so that the president would be able to depart India following his speech Tuesday to stop in Riyadh during the return trip to meet with King Salman and other Saudi officials and offer his condolences on behalf of the American people.”

The White House said Obama “regrets that he will be unable to visit Agra during this trip”.

“The vice president will remain in Washington,” the statement added.

On Jan 27, Obama will give a talk at Siri Fort in New Delhi on the subject “India and America: The future we can build together”, before flying to Riyadh in the afternoon.

During their 2010 visit, Obama and Michelle had gone to Mumbai where the US president had also held a Townhall type of talk with students.

Agra District Magistrate Pankaj Kumar confirmed to reporters the cancellation of Obama’s visit to Agra.

An official said advance teams of the US Secret Service and other officials have returned from Agra.

Obama was to fly to Agra on the last day of his visit Tuesday and spend an hour at the Taj Mahal before flying back to the US.

“The US first lady and the president both were keen to visit Taj… specially since they were unable to do so in 2010, but the plan has now been cancelled,” an official privy to the visit confirmed to IANS in Agra.

Due to the weather, an alternative way via the Yamuna Expressway was also being contemplated.

But due to the seasonal fog, the US Secret Service was reportedly not keen to take the two-hour long Yamuna Expressway route from New Delhi to Agra.

As part of the stringent security in place for the visit, the Agra authorities had decided to shut down mobile services for three hours during the time the Obamas would come calling and electronic jammers were to be put in operation.

Besides the hundreds of security personal fanning out in the area, the authorities were also planning to shut down schools near the Taj Jan 27.

The stretch of road from the airport to the Taj, roughly 12 km, was planned to be made out of bounds for locals two hours before and after the visit.