It is rare for the US president to attend a reception for a visiting minister, but to counter a public perception that President Barack Obama is not as warm towards India as his predecessor George Bush was, the White House has made it known that he would attend a reception for visiting External Affairs Minister SM Krishna.
Obama plans to drive down from the White House to the State Department at Foggy Bottom for the reception being hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after chairing the inaugural India-US strategic dialogue with Krishna on June 3.
"On Thursday, the President will attend and deliver remarks at the Secretary of State's reception in honour of the Indian delegation to the United States-India Strategic Dialogue, which will meet at the State Department earlier that day," the White House said in a memo for the media releasing Obama's schedule for the next week.
Indian and more so US officials have been at pains to counter suggestions that India-US relations have slipped from their glory days under Bush who had pushed hard to make the landmark India-US civil nuclear deal a reality to bring about a dramatic transformation in ties.
"Let me just say that there has not been any change," Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O Blake told reporters on Friday when asked about a perception in India that ties with New Delhi have taken a backseat with Obama focusing his attention on Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"The Obama Administration attaches great importance to our relations with India," he asserted. "As President Obama himself has said, this will be one of our signature partnerships in the 21st century," Blake said pointing to the fact that Obama had invited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the first state visit of his administration last November "to reaffirm the importance that we attach to our relations with India."
"One of the purposes of the strategic dialogue is to think through what are the big, new opportunities and where are the big areas of cooperation," Blake said suggesting sceptics perceptions would be best addressed "just by delivering results and by showing, in a concrete way, all of the various things that we're doing."
Krishna and Hillary Clinton will lead a team of ministers and officials at the June 2-3 dialogue covering a wide range of areas, including high technology trade, science & technology, civil nuclear cooperation, agriculture, human resource development, security and other strategic issues.
Tone for the discussions was set by Obama's phone call Friday to Manmohan Singh when the "leaders agreed that the Dialogue is an important milestone in the development of the US-India strategic partnership and looked forward to its results."
Obama and Singh "also expressed their hope that the Dialogue will initiate a regular exchange of ideas and discussion between their governments and both pledged their support toward that end," according to a White House readout of the call.