U.S. President Obama and his wife Michelle Obama touched down in New Delhi on Sunday morning, for a visit that is historic and full of symbolism, and to a big hug from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who went to the airport to receive them.
Mr. Obama not only the first American President to be the chief guest on Republic Day, but also the first American president to visit India twice in his tenure. The visit sees the second summit between India and the U.S. within four months, and the fourth time Mr. Obama and Mr. Modi will meet in that period. Mr. and Mrs. Obama will however, leave India a second time without seeing the Taj Mahal, as they have cut their visit short so as to travel to Saudi Arabia to pay condolences for the death of King Abdullah on Tuesday.
After the ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhawan, and visit to Rajghat, Prime Minister Modi will host President Obama for lunch, followed by bilateral talks, and the two leaders will also record a joint radio address, which will be broadcast across about 30 countries, and have invited questions from the public over Twitter for it.
During the bilateral talks, the India-U.S. defence partnership is set to take centre-stage, adding substance to the symbolism that Mr. Obama will salute the military parade on Monday. While signing a new defence framework, the two countries are likely to discuss co-production deals as part of the Defence Trade and Technological initiative, as well as closer exchanges between the armed forces.
The most anticipated outcome is the possibility of a breakthrough on the nuclear deal over supplier’s liability and other issues that have held up the setting up of U.S. nuclear reactors in India for the past decade. While negotiators of the nuclear contact group set up by Mr. Obama and Mr. Modi last year have met three times in the past few weeks they have been unable to forge the breakthrough, but officials said the final push could come when the “principles meet.” The impasse is over two separate issues, one, the U.S. opposition to India’s supplier liability law (CLND 2010) and Indian opposition to allowing US monitoring of all Indian facilities that process Uranium.
Dr. Sanjaya Baru, who was spokesperson to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he and former US President George Bush had similarly “forced a breakthrough” on separation of civil and military facilities in 2005 said he was confident a “similar moment” exists today. “In 2005, President Bush over-rode domestic objections, and in 2015, I think PM Modi will over-ride the domestic opposition to forge a breakthrough,” he told The Hindu .
Economic issues are also at the top of the agenda for both Mr. Modi and Mr. Obama, and while officials are not optimistic of a Bilateral Investment treaty being announced, they hope to clear several issues that would “elevate the relationship”. “We’ll be looking for ways to open up greater exports in both directions, greater investment in both directions. So that will be a critical space,” said White House officials ahead of the visit. Fighting climate change and an agreement on renewable energy is also expected after talks, as are MoUs on counter-terrorism, cyber cooperation, and extended discussions on Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The two leaders will address a press conference after their meetings at approximately 3 p.m., and the Obamas will be hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee to a banquet, which is expected to be a gala affair, with about 250 guests invited.