Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was on Tuesday given a rousing welcome at the White House where he was received by President Barack Obama before they sat down for bilateral talks during which the two countries are expected to take their strategic ties to a new level.
Obama and First Lady Michelle personally welcomed Singh, the first State guest of the Obama Administration, and his wife Gursharan Kaur at the White House. The elaborate ceremonial welcome, which was planned at the White House lawns, had to be shifted to the sprawling mansion due to the rains. National Anthems of both India and the US were also played during the ceremony.
Singh's visit is the first state visit hosted by the administration, the highest honor extended to a foreign dignitary, and the two would discuss a wide range of bilateral issues and the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan during their one-on-one meeting. Though the two leaders met in April on sidelines of the G-20 Summit in London and briefly at Pittsburgh's G-20 Summit, this would be for the first time they would discuss bilateral issues and possibilities of cooperation on key global issues like climate change. The two leaders are understood to have exchanged views on a range of issues, including terrorism, situation in the region, climate change, economic and business ties, agriculture and education.
This is Singh's second State Visit to the US; he has also met with former President George W Bush in 2005. The Prime Minister is also expected to have registered India's concerns over diversion of US aid by Pakistan and press for ensuring accountability to prevent misuse of funds and equipment. After the meeting and discussions between the delegations of two countries, Singh and Obama will jointly address a press conference and issue a joint statement reflecting the strengthening of the relationship between the two countries.
The two countries will sign a number of pacts, including an MoU on Counter-Terrorism to provide a legal framework for stepped up cooperation against the menace, and discuss the problem of climate change ahead of the Copenhagen Summit. The Prime Minister has indicated that he would seek a "more liberal" US technology transfer to India and an early implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal. The most anticipated part of the entire trip however has been the State Dinner, when Obama and Michell host the first black-tie dinner for the Prime Minister. An invitation to the dinner is believed to be the hottest ticket in Washington this week.
While no official list has been announced so far, media reports say that some 400 people have been invited to the dinner, which would have the President and the First Lady's personal touch, including on the menu and entertainment. Grammy- and Oscar-award-winning singer and actress Jennifer Hudson will entertain the black-tie crowd, sources said.
Noting that "this is a moment of great opportunity" in Indo-US relationship, Singh said the two countries can work together to meet challenges like combating terrorism, moving towards a nuclear arms-free world and making the environment cleaner.
After Obama rolled out the red carpet for the 77-year-old Indian leader at the White House, he took the opportunity to emphasise that the India and the US share common values and can deepen their strategic partnership.
"This is a moment of great opportunity in our relationship. India and the United States can and must work together to harness the immense potential of our talented and enterprising people, and support each other's growth and prosperity," Singh said at the East Room of White House.
"We should cooperate in addressing global challenges of combating terrorism, making our environment cleaner, and moving towards a world free of nuclear weapons," he said.
Obama and First Lady Michelle personally received Singh, the first State Guest of 10-month-old Obama Administration, and his wife Gursharan Kaur.
"Yours is the first official state visit of my presidency, its fitting that you and India be so recognised," 48-year-old Obama told Singh.
Singh noted that India and America are separated by distance, but bound together by the values of democracy, humanism, rule of law, and respect of fundamental human freedoms.
"Over the years, we have built upon these values and created a partnership that is based upon both principle and pragmatism. Our relations have been transformed, and today they encompass cooperation in all areas of human activity.
"I've come today to build upon these successes and to strengthen our multi-faceted relationship. We seek to broaden and deepen our strategic partnership and to work with the United States to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world in this 21st century," the Prime Minister said.
Singh extended the "friendly greetings of our 1 billion people of India" to Obama and the people of the US. He also "deeply appreciated" Obama's "strong personal commitments to our bilateral relationship".
"God bless America. God bless India," he said.
Recognising India as a "nuclear power" publicly for the first time, President Barack Obama said it can be a full partner of the US in preventing the spread of atomic weapons and pursuing the shared vision of a nuclear arms-free world.
"As nuclear powers, we can be full partners in preventing the spread of the world's most deadly weapons, securing loose nuclear materials from terrorists, and pursuing our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons," Obama said.
On his part, Singh said, "We should cooperate in addressing global challenges of combating terrorism, making our environment cleaner, and moving towards a world free of nuclear weapons."
With nuclear non-proliferation being one of the top priorities of Obama, it is likely that the two leaders would talk about the issue during their one-on-one.
Obama took the initiative in the adoption of a resolution by the UN Security Council on September 24 requiring all members to ratify the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, Singh had said that the resolution was not directed at India, neither it would have any impact on the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement.
Obama recalled India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's visit to America "exactly 60 years ago" and said the two countries can draw strength from their shared past as they work to build their common future.
In his introductory remarks after welcoming Singh as the first State Guest of his Administration, Obama referred to the October 1949 visit of Nehru, when Harry Truman was the President of America.
"...As we build our common future, we can draw strength from our shared past. For it was exactly 60 years ago, in a ceremony not unlike this, that an American president welcomed to the White House the first prime minister of an independent India," the 48-year-old American leader said.
He noted that "while the decades that followed were not without their challenges, the spirit of that first visit is with us today: the same sense of possibility, the same hope for the future."
"...It is my privilege to welcome the respected leader of a great nation of free people. And as Prime Minister Nehru said of the work before them, may our two great nations find many ways of working together in friendly and fruitful cooperation to our mutual advantage, and for the good of humanity," he said.
"In that spirit, I welcome you to the United States of America," Obama said. PTI