NEW DELHI: For US President Barack Obama, the visit to India - his first single country trip ever - has many superlatives, which officials on both sides are working hard to highlight, even as a tight wrap is being kept on the concrete deliverables.
It starts with many obvious ones - the first US President to visit India twice and the first to be invited as the Republic Day chief guest.
As White House Deputy NSA Ben Rhodes said that the invitation “took us by some surprise” - and referred that the “complicated” history of the two countries would have made the spectre of the US President sitting as the Republic Day chief guest highly unlikely. In fact, the key Obama aide described the uniqueness of what the Presidential couple will be witnessing on Monday.
The “closest analogy” he could find was the parades organised to mark the inauguration of a new Presidential term, which Obama will review for some period of time. During the Republic Day parade, he will have to be in the open for nearly two hours. “There’s not been a similar event that he’s attended overseas, so it’s unique in that case,” he said. “Obama is expected to arrive at 10 am on January 25,” said MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.
Obama will be accompanied by wife Michelle, but not his two daughters since they have school.
There will also be a high-power Congressional delegations, including Minority Leader in the US Congress Nancy Pelosi, Senator Mark Warner, Representative Joe Crowley and Indian-America Congressman Ami Berra.
The Cabinet members accompanying Obama will be Commerce Secretary Penny Strikzer, US trade representative Mike Froman and National Security Adviser Susan Rice. Besides, there will be a large media delegation of nearly 140 journalists travelling from the US to cover the event. After his ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and laying a wreath at the Rajghat, Obama and his host Narendra Modi will first hold restricted talks at the Hyderabad House. Following that, there will be delegation-level talks over the luncheon meeting.
While talks for smoothening out the implementation of nuclear deal were going on in London, top Pentagon official Frank Kendall was in the South Block on Thursday to talk about defence-related context for the joint statement.
In the evening, the state banquet thrown by the President will be another opportunity for Modi and Obama to spent time together.
Next day, they will spend again long hours together, watching the parade from the special box and then interacting side-by-side with top business honchos from both the countries. They will also be recording a special joint appearance on PM’s radio program. The next day, the President will give a speech to a select gathering before he travels to Agra.