Obama Arrives in India on Landmark Visit

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AP file photo
AP file photo

Mubasshir Mushtaq | Anadolu Agency

NEW DELHI — U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in India on Sunday to take his place as the guest of honor at India’s annual Republic Day celebrations and engage in bilateral talks over the course of a three-day visit.

Obama will be the first U.S. president to participate in Monday’s parade, which celebrates the day independent India’s constitution came into force in 1950.

“The visit of the U.S. President is a culmination of a qualitative reinvigoration of our ties following the meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Obama in September 2014,” Syed Akbaruddin, the official spokesperson of India’s Foreign Ministry said in a media briefing on Thursday.

Obama’s visit comes just four months after he met with Modi in Washington, during the Indian prime minister’s high-energy U.S. visit last September.

The U.S. president will receive a ceremonial welcome from his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee at the presidential palace before “restricted” bilateral talks with Modi, according to the itinerary provided by India’s Foreign Ministry.

Some of the key issues likely to be discussed between Obama and Modi are civil nuclear energy, defense technology, counterterrorism, border management, trade initiatives and financial regulations.

In the last four months, the two countries have held nine dialogue-level meetings. In addition, eight separate meetings have been held to discuss matters relating to defense and security.

Monday provides the big event, where Obama will be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade where for security reasons, contrary to tradition, he will most likely ride in his own official vehicle rather than the Indian president’s.

In a sign of growing warmth between the two leaders, Obama is set to record and broadcast a radio interview on Modi’s own radio show titled “Mann ki baat,” which translates as matters of the heart.

On Tuesday Obama is scheduled to address a select gathering of businessmen before departing to Saudi Arabia.

A planned trip to see the historic Taj Mahal, an architectural wonder, with First Lady Michelle Obama was cancelled to make way for the Saudi Arabia trip, after the death of Saudi King Abdullah on Friday.

Since September 2014, India and U.S. have signed ten Memorandums of Understanding in areas such as space, renewable energy, skill development and urban development.

India views the U.S. as a “key partner” for capital, technology, knowledge, and skills to further Modi’s development agenda. Indian officials also view United States as an important source for clean energy technology, space security and cyber security programs.

Modi’s premiership has seen a new emphasis placed on relations with the United States, which have been traditionally distant, though not unfriendly.

“The United States is India’s key interlocutor in adjustments to the global security and economic architecture including reforms of the United Nations Security Council,” spokesperson Akbaruddin said. “And it is a partner in our efforts to seek peace and stability in our extended neighborhood and globally.”

India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley however recently acknowledged that there are differences between the two countries.

“India, U.S. have a mature relationship. There are huge areas where we agree with each other and areas where we may not come to a particular common view point; that is the maturity of the relationship that you can even survive those differences,” Jaitley said at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday.

In a sign of India’s growing importance in South Asia, Russian Defense minister Sergey Shoigu visitedIndia on Wednesday in a low-key visit to hold talks with Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, to speed up a 5-year old agreement to jointly manufacture a stealth military aircraft in India.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also visited India in December to seal a series of agreements that cemented the long tradition of Indo-Russian relations.

“Both U.S. and Russia are trying to woo India given it is the world’s third-largest economy,” Mustafa Khan, an analyst told AA on Saturday. “It would be interesting to see how India balances its decades-old traditional relationship with Russia as the U.S. President knocks on the door.”

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