Modi, Obama walk, talk and have tea at Hyderabad House

  • HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 26, 2015 03:41 IST

United States President Barack Obama held bilateral discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday at the start of his historic three-day India visit aimed at consolidating increasingly close ties between the world's two largest democracies.

The two leaders sat down for a working lunch in central Delhi after sharing a bear hug at the airport where Modi, dressed in a bright saffron shawl, greeted the first couple on the tarmac.

Obama is the first serving US president to return to India for a second time, underscoring the growing importance of what he has called one of the "defining partnerships of the 21st century". Obama will also be the first US president to be present at Republic Day parade as a chief guest.

Live Blog Barack Obama in India

Here are the top developments of the day:

# Prime Minister Narendra Modi received Obama at Palam airport with a handshake and a warm hug, setting the tone for the US president's visit. He was accompanied by US ambassador Richard Verma.

# Obama went to ITC Maurya, the hotel where he is staying, straight from the airport. Obama reached Rashtrapati Bhavan around noon for a ceremonial welcome.

# At Rashtrapati Bhavan, Obama was received by President Pranab Mukherjee, who dressed in a black bandgala suit and Modi, who had changed into a light striped black bandgala suit from his morning attire of light cream-coloured kurta pyjama with beige Nehru jacket paired with a red shawl.

# Obama received a ceremonial welcome at the President's House. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley were among the dignitaries present on the occasion.

# "It's a great honour to be back in India," Obama said after the ceremonial welcome where he received a Guard of Honour. "Grateful for the extraordinary hospitality..." he added, in the forecourt of the presidential palace where he was escorted by Wing Commander Puja Thakur.

# Obama was introduced to Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Manohar Parrikar, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Delhi L-G Najeeb Jung.

# From the President's House, Obama reached Rajghat and paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi in a wreath-laying ceremony. He planted a sapling of Peepal tree, also called the Bodhi tree or the wisdom tree.

# In the visitors' book, Obama wrote, "What Dr Martin Luther King Jr said then remains true today - 'the spirit of Gandhi is very much alive in India today. And it remains a great gift to the world. May we always live in this spirit - of love and peace - among all people and nations'."

# Obama met PM Modi for a working lunch at Hyderabad House. The lunch was followed by a 'walk and talk' between the two leaders after which they and officials from both sides will hold meetings.

US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Delhi airport on Sunday. (Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)

# Modi and the US President discussed a range of issues including defense and counter-terrorism at Hyderabad House, but officials said efforts to combat climate change will figure prominently in the talks. There will be a joint press statement after 4pm.

# Highlighting the importance of the visit, foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, "This is a momentous visit. It is high both in terms of symbolism and substance." He added there was a "reflection of change" in the India-US ties, and the two countries were working to "re-energise this relation".

# New Delhi has turned into a virtual fortress for the high-profile visit, with heightened security measures including an extended no-fly zone, to protect the world's most powerful leader. While on-the-ground security has been beefed up with extra police patrols and checks at Delhi Metro stations, snipers have been deployed at more than 70 high-rise buildings around central Delhi.

What's on the agenda

Indians officials are optimistic that the relations between the world's two largest democracies will move forward on many issues including the seven-year-old civil nuclear deal.

Speculation swirled about India and the US announcing a breakthrough agreement on climate change along the lines of the US-China deal in 2014 as Washington looks to secure political support for a global climate deal in Paris this year.

New Delhi and Washington have not commented on these reports. But India has been reluctant to follow the US and China in committing to a peak year for emissions on the grounds it needs economic growth to alleviate poverty.

Keeping in line with his efforts towards closer economic and defence ties with India, Obama's delegation has Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Democratic Senator Mark Warner, and a host of other lawmakers, cabinet members, and business leaders.

Mega Monday

On the second day, after attending the colourful Republic Day Parade, Obama will meet the CEOs of some of the top Indian companies with PM Modi. Some agreements between India and American companies are expected to be announced after the meeting in presence of two leaders.

The US delegation, which includes US trade representative Michael Froman, will bring up trade, specifically what Washington sees as impediments posed by Indian rules and practices. India too will bring up its priorities.

Mann Ki Baat

On Tuesday, Obama will join PM Modi on a special edition of the latter's radio programme where listeners have been asked to pre-submit questions by Sunday to the leaders on the programme "Mann Ki Baat".

(With agency inputs)

Video:Obama receives ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan

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