President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Saturday cancelled a scheduled trip to the Taj Mahal as he has to travel to Saudi Arabia to pay tribute to Washington’s close ally, late King Abdullah.
The cancellation came a day before his arrival in New Delhi as chief guest for this year’s Republic Day function. This is the President and the First Lady’s second missed trip to the Taj Mahal as the must-go monument was not on their itinerary during their first visit to the country in 2010.
“The President regrets that he will be unable to visit Agra during this trip,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest in a statement. As world leaders headed for Riyadh, it was earlier decided that vice-president Joe Biden would lead the American delegation because of Obama’s engagements in India.
But the schedule was changed when it became clear that Biden would reach Riyadh around the same time Obama takes off from India on Tuesday.
“Accordingly, we adjusted the schedule in coordination with the Indian government so that the President would be able to depart India following his speech on Tuesday to stop in Riyadh during the return trip to meet with King Salman and other Saudi officials and offer his condolences on behalf of the American people.
The vice-president will remain in Washington,” said the White House statement.
UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s office released the White House statement to scotch a raft of speculations over the abruptly-cancelled trip — some blaming security arrangements and others pointing to the foul weather.
Agra divisional commissioner Pradeep Bhatnagar ruled out any “local” issue as the reason behind the cancellation. The visit was called off because of “change of regime” in Saudi Arabia, he said. “Security personnel and agencies from the US camping in Agra for the visit have started moving out.”
Agra residents, though disappointed, hoped Obama and Michelle would make it to the Taj some other time.