President Barack Obama arrived in New Delhi Sunday with expectations for strengthening a bond with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and laying the groundwork for greater cooperation on climate change, security and trade.
In his second visit as president to Asia’s third-biggest economy, Obama meets again with Modi to build on ties the two men developed during the Indian leader’s trip to the U.S. last September. They embraced on the tarmac when Obama landed.
“It’s very hard to match this walk — it’s always spectacular,” Obama said during a welcome ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi, where he received a 21-gun salute. Obama and Modi are scheduled to address the press later on Sunday after holding talks.
Obama canceled a trip on Tuesday to the Taj Mahal, India’s best-known tourist site, to visit Saudi Arabia. The president called the new Saudi monarch, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, from Air Force Once while en route to India to express sympathies on the death of King Abdullah, according to a statement from the White House.
Obama and Modi may announce a resolution to a legal obstacle that has hindered U.S. nuclear supplies to India, CNN-IBN reported, without saying where it got the information. U.S. companies have stalled building nuclear reactors in India because of a 2010 change in the country’s law that includes a means to sue equipment vendors in the event of an accident.
The ceremonial centerpiece of Obama’s India visit is Republic Day, a celebration on Monday marking the anniversary of the country’s democracy establishment in 1950. Obama, the first U.S. president to visit India twice, and first lady Michelle Obama are Modi’s chief guests for the national holiday, which includes a parade that can last four to five hours and is televised throughout India.
One of the other main events will be an appearance by Obama and Modi before chief executives of companies from both nations at a U.S.-India Business Council summit on Monday in New Delhi. The chairman of the council, which has its headquarters in Washington, is MasterCard Inc. Chief Executive Officer Ajay Banga and board members include Ellen Lord, CEO of Textron Systems, and Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo Inc. CEO.
“The relationship between the United States and India can be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century,” Obama said in an interview with India Today that was published last week before he left the U.S. “We’re natural partners.”
Obama and Modi also will discuss security issues, including relations with Iran and support of Afghanistan as the U.S. withdraws troops. The Obamas are scheduled to attend a state dinner and the president will address the Indian public at the Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi.
U.S. trade with India totals about $93 billion, according to government figures. That includes precious stones, aircraft and pharmaceuticals.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican, challenged Obama to produce results from the trip on trade, high-tech visas and nuclear cooperation.
“This visit needs to be about more than just good visuals,” Royce said in an e-mailed statement. “The critical U.S. relationship with India has lagged the last several years. This visit is a jump start chance not to be missed.”
U.S. House members including California Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Ami Bera, the only Indian-American serving in Congress, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker are traveling with Obama.
“There’s a real desire to open up India’s markets a bit more and at the same time get more Indian goods into the U.S. market,” Bera said in an interview before the trip.
One of his district’s top employers, GenCorp Inc. (GY)’s Aerojet Rocketdyne division, which makes missile defense systems, is eager for more business from India, Bera said.
“There are certain areas you have to work through in terms of the co-building of these defense systems,” he said. “But it does look like India is increasingly looking to the West for building defense systems whereas a decade ago, they would’ve looked to Russia.”
Obama, 53, and the 64-year-old Indian prime minister have cozied up since Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, took office in May.
Starting with Modi’s visit to Washington, they have set out to restore a relationship strained by U.S. relations with Pakistan, a county with which India has long clashed over borders and security.
“India has raised its hand and said ‘we’re ready to talk about strategic interests again and shared interests,’” said Rick Rossow, Center for Strategic and International Studies Wadhwani chairman in U.S.-India policy studies. “It feels that India’s back in line with the broader Asia pivot and in fact may become one of the cornerstones now.”
Pentagon officials are looking for progress too.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a press conference Friday said that prior to the president’s visit, Pentagon weapons buyer, Undersecretary Frank Kendall, met with Indian officials “closing out some things that we think can be delivered” during the trip. He didn’t give details.
Kendall, who’s visited India three times previously, was scheduled to meet with Indian Defense Secretary Radha Krishna Mathur and secretary for defense production G. Mohan Kumar “to continue momentum on the current U.S.-India Trade Defense and Technology Initiative, his spokeswoman Maureen Schumann said in an e-mailed statement. The initiative calls for co-production and co-development of weapons systems.
Proposals for joint development and production include the Javelin anti-tank missile made by a joint venture of Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) and Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon and a maritime version of the U.S. Army’s United Technologies Corp. Black Hawk transport helicopter.