United States President Barack Obama landed in New Delhi on an overcast Sunday morning around 9:40am to begin his three-day visit to India, highlighting the remarkable turnaround in relations between the two countries from a low point a year ago.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi received him at Palam airport with a handshake and a warm hug. He was accompanied by US ambassador Richard Verma.
“This is a momentous visit. It is high both in terms of symbolism and substance,” foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.
He added there was a “reflection of change” in the India-US ties, and the two countries were working to “re-energise this relation”.
Obama, the first US President to be in India twice while in office, is visiting on the invitation of Modi, who was until last year denied a visa to visit the US. Obama will also be the first US president present at India’s Republic Day parade as a chief guest.
During this visit both sides will seek to break the deadlock in internationalizing the civil nuclear pact, firm up a defence cooperation agreement besides broadening ties in areas like trade and investment.
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.
Soon, Obama will receive a traditional reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan and also pay homage at Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi at Raj Ghat.
Prime Minister Modi and the US President will discuss a range of issues including defense and counter-terrorism at Hyderabad House within hours, but officials said efforts to combat climate change will figure prominently in the talks.
“At the front burner in terms of our bilateral relationship, the cooperation on clean energy and climate change is critically important,” said Ben Rhodes, a White House official.
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.
As Obama arrives in New Delhi on Sunday, there is enthusiasm that the visit will yield tangible breakthroughs for both sides. Apart from an agreement on the nuclear issue, a “friendship accord” is in the works, which will see India and the US working together on common challenges like counterterrorism. India and the US may also stitch up the first co-development pact to manufacture UAVs in India.