The White House on Tuesday said President Barack Obama’s remarks on religious tolerance during his India visit invoked a shared value, and they have been “misconstrued”.
“I think that’s been somewhat misconstrued,” said Philip Reiner, National Security Council senior director, adding, “I wouldn’t insinuate that there’s any baggage there at all.”
The President’s speech, the official said, reviewing the visit at a news briefing, was about “core democratic values and principles” shared by India and the US, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself spoke about just the night before.
President Obama’s remarks from Siri Fort — that “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith” -- was widely seen as a thinly veiled criticism of Modi.
Opposition parties pounced on it. BSP leader Mayawati called it a “parting shot” while RJD leader Lalu Yadav said, “Thanks to Obama, we have recognized the true colours of Modi.”
US media was on it too. The Wall Street Journal reported that a newsreel made of the visit by the MEA omitted any reference to those remarks. The White House insists President Obama’s remarks only invoked shared principles. “I don’t believe that this was a parting shot by any means,” said Reiner.
The official, who was part of President Obama’s delegation to India, also tamped down reports that said China was the first subject Modi and Obama discussed when they met.
“I mean, the notion that the very first thing that we would talk about as we come in the door is China is just – I mean, there were many things that we spoke about,” said Reiner.
“Coming in the door,” as he put it, “the primary thing” talked about were the Delhi Declaration and the joint strategic vision, which the two sides had just agreed upon.
The vision document is indeed mostly about China, but in Reiner’s telling of the discussions, it figured in the larger context on the region, which included Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Beijing had very sharp words about Obama’s visit, calling it “superficial rapprochement”, and the US President later said he was surprised by the vehemence of those remarks.
Apart from the deals and documents signed and announced, Reiner said the Republic Day visit institutionalized the vision statement made by the two leader in September — “putting in place a framework that actually creates action behind the vision so that it’s not just another piece of paper”.
On the issue of nuclear deal, Reiner said “There are no further impediments. It’s now for operationalization. The governments don’t necessarily get involved in the decisions that companies make, right? But at this point, what we’ve done is we’ve removed the ambiguity that was preventing those companies from moving forward.”
“We’ll continue to focus on and need to focus on the tough issues. The United States will need to see further progress on things like intellectual property rights, local content requirements, for example," he said.