Obama in India: Town hall meeting to close trip

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LATEST: US President Barack Obama will host a town hall-style meeting in India on Tuesday, seeking to stress the shared values of the world's largest democracies as he wraps up a visit aimed at reinvigorating their sometimes tense ties.

The speech to around 1,500 young Indians comes at the end of an unprecedented second visit to India by a serving US president, underscoring Obama's determination to reinvent a relationship marred by a bitter diplomatic row in late 2013.

Although the trip has been light on substantive policy announcements, Obama and new Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a breakthrough on a nuclear deal that had stalled under India's previous government and have been at pains to demonstrate their personal rapport.

Obama, who hosted Modi in Washington in September, has said the "stars are aligned" to realise a vision he outlined for the two countries to become global partners when he last visited in 2010.

Both sides want a counter-balance to China, with Modi seen as taking a more assertive line on India's powerful neighbour than the previous government.

"People have long looked at this relationship and seen the fundamentals in place for a really, really close partnership, and yet it's been a challenge in translating that into outcomes," said Obama's advisor Ben Rhodes ahead of Tuesday's event at a New Delhi auditorium.

"I think the president will want to speak to how do we tap into the energy and the support in both countries for the relationship and turn that into positive progress on the issues that matter in people's lives."

Modi has promised to revive India's flagging economy to improve the fortunes of its 1.2 billion people, many of whom still live in dire poverty.

On Monday he vowed to banish the country's reputation as a tough place to do business, promising a competitive tax regime and an end to excessive red tape in a pitch to US executives delivered alongside Obama.

Under the previous left-leaning Congress government, investors frequently complained about a hostile business climate in India, frustrated by bureaucracy and corruption.

Radio phone-in

Earlier Monday, Obama became the first US president to attend India's Republic Day parade, drawing cheers from spectators who turned out in large numbers despite rain and heavy security.

The invitation to the annual celebration is one of the biggest honours the country can bestow on a foreign leader and underscores the importance that Modi places on US ties.

The Indian premier extended a personal invitation to Obama, a measure of the turnaround in relations after a tense row involving the arrest and strip-search of an Indian diplomat in New York in late 2013.

Modi has gone out of his way to welcome Obama, breaking with protocol to greet him on the tarmac and inviting him to co-host a radio phone-in that will be broadcast on Tuesday evening.

The atmosphere of bonhomie between the two leaders is all the more remarkable given that Modi was persona non grata in Washington only a year ago.

His election in May 2014 was a potential headache for the US, which had blacklisted nationalist for more than a decade after deadly communal riots in Gujarat when he was state chief minister.

He was only brought in from the cold last February when the US ambassador travelled to Gujarat once it appeared Modi was likely to end the centre-left Congress party's 10-year rule.

Rhodes also said the US president would use Tuesday's speech to stress the importance of "diversity as a democratic value" in the majority-Hindu nation.

The US president had been scheduled to visit the Taj Mahal with First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday, but his trip has been cut short to allow him to travel on to Saudi Arabia and pay his respects to new King Salman.

Ends day of pageantry with $4 billion pledge

US President Barack Obama ended a landmark day in India on Monday with a pledge of $4 billion in investments and loans, seeking to release what he called the ‘untapped potential’ of a business and strategic partnership between the world's largest democracies.

Earlier in the day, at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Obama was the first US president to attend India's annual Republic Day parade.

It rained as troops, tanks and cultural floats filed through the heart of New Delhi, but excitement nevertheless ran high over Obama's visit, which began on Sunday with a clutch of deals to unlock billions of dollars in nuclear trade and to deepen defence ties.

Both sides hope to build enough momentum to forge a relationship that will help balance China's rise by catapulting democratic India into the league of major world powers.

The leaders talked on first name terms, recorded a radio programme together and spent hours speaking at different events.

"We are moving in the right direction ... That said, we also know that the U.S.-India relationship is defined by so much untapped potential," Obama told the Indian and U.S. business leaders. "Everyone here will agree, we've got to do better."

Modi said U.S. investment in India had doubled in the past four months and vowed to do more to slash the country's red tape and make it one of the world's easiest places for business.

Obama said that U.S. Export-Import Bank would finance $1 billion in exports of 'Made-in-America' products. The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation will lend $1 billion to small- and medium-sized enterprises in rural areas of India.

Regarding renewable energy, a key focus for Modi, $2 billion will be committed by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency for renewable energy, Obama said.
Most significant was an agreement on issues that, despite a groundbreaking 2006 pact, had stopped U.S. companies from setting up nuclear reactors in India and had become one of the major irritants in bilateral relations.

"Mobama breaks N-deadlock," ran the front-page headline of the Mail Today newspaper, which carried a photograph of Modi and Obama hugging each other warmly.

Global reach


Obama and Modi sat behind a rain-spotted screen as the parade unfolded along Rajpath, an elegant lawn-bordered boulevard dating from the British colonial era that connects the presidential palace to India Gate.
Helicopters showered petals on the crowds, and then tanks, missiles, stiffly saluting soldiers, brass bands and dancers filed past the guests.

Modi has injected a new vitality into the economy and foreign relations since his May elections.

The United States views India as a vast market and potential counterweight to China's assertiveness.

In a joint statement that made a veiled reference to China's territorial claims, Modi and Obama stated their commitment to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

They also agreed to a 10-year framework for defence ties and struck deals on cooperation that included joint production of drone aircraft and equipment for Lockheed Martin Corp's  C-130 military transport plane.

Modi pledges 'predictable, competitive' tax regime

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to forge a "predictable and competitive" tax regime Monday in an address to businessmen, delivered alongside US President Barack Obama.

"You will find a tax regime that is predictable and competitive," Modi told the gathering of US and Indian chief executives in New Delhi.

"We have removed some of the excesses of the past. We will soon address the remaining uncertainties."

Rain fails to dampen cheer as US President attends Republic Day parade 

Rain failed to dampen spirits at India's Republic Day parade on Monday as Barack Obama became the first US president to attend the spectacular military and cultural display in a sign of the nations' growing closeness.

Thousands of cheering spectators braved wet weather and heavy security to watch the parade, which marks the birth of modern India and includes everything from tanks and state-of-the-art weaponry to camels and traditional dancers.

The invitation to the annual celebration is one of the biggest honours the country can bestow on a foreign leader and underscores the increasing warmth between Obama and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The leaders smiled and chatted as they watched from behind a bulletproof glass screen, Modi sporting a green and orange hat with a pink circular plume that rivalled the spectacular military headgear on display.

Obama gave a thumbs-up as stunt-riders on motorbikes formed their trademark human pyramid before the grand finale of the event, a fly-past by Indian fighter jets.

The display of military might came a day after Obama and Modi renewed a defence cooperation agreement.

The mounted Border Security Force on their brightly-decorated camels, a traditional highlight, drew loud cheers from spectators who were out in force.

"This day is all about patriotism and I'm lucky to be a part of it," said 20-year-old college student Ajith Kumar, attending the central Delhi event with his parents and younger sister.

"The fact that we have a guest like Obama has made it all the more special."


EARLIER REPORT:
Daredevils given a thumbs up

US President Barack Obama watched a dazzling act by the Daredevils and gave the motorcycle stunts riders from the border Security Force a thumbs up .

 Obama watched a dazzling parade of India's military might and cultural diversity on Monday, the second day of a visit trumpeted as a chance to establish a robust strategic partnership between the world's two largest democracies.

It rained on the parade through the heart of New Delhi, but excitement nevertheless ran high over Obama's landmark visit, which began on Sunday with a clutch of deals and 'bromance' bonding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
 

The invitation to the annual celebration of the birth of modern India is one of the biggest honours the country can bestow on a foreign leader and underscores the growing closeness between Obama and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Security will be tight for the parade, a colourful display of India's military might and cultural diversity showcasing everything from tanks and state-of-the-art weaponry to camels and traditional dancers.



Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) and US President Barack Obama talk during a meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on January 25, 2015. (AFP)

DAY 1

Nuclear breakthrough announced after talks

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama announced they had reached an agreement on Sunday to break the deadlock that has been stalling a civilian nuclear power agreement.

"I am pleased that six years after we signed our bilateral agreement, we are moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with our laws (and) international legal obligations," Modi said at a joint press conference with Obama in the Indian capital New Delhi.

The two countries in 2008 signed a landmark deal giving India access to civilian nuclear technology, but it has been held up by US concerns over India's strict laws on liability in the event of a nuclear accident.

US President Barack Obama (C) places a wreath at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial at Rajghat in New Delhi January 25, 2015.

While there were no immediate details on how the impasse had been broken, India has reportedly offered to set up an insurance pool to indemnify companies that build reactors in the country against liability in case of a nuclear accident.

"Today we achieved a breakthrough understanding on two issues that were holding up our ability to advance our civil nuclear cooperation and we are committed to moving towards full implementation," said Obama.
"This is an important step that shows how we can work together to elevate our relationship," he added.

After bear hug, US President, Modi get down to business

US President Barack Obama hugs India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he arrives at Air Force Station Palam in New Delhi January 25, 2015. (Reuters)

In a glow of bonhomie, US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi worked on a series of bilateral agreements at a summit on Sunday that both sides hope will establish an enduring strategic partnership.

Signalling his determination to take ties to a higher level, Modi broke with protocol to meet and bear-hug Obama as he landed in New Delhi earlier in the day.

After a working lunch that included kebabs made with lotus stem, figs and spices, the two leaders got down to talks to finalise possible agreements on climate change, renewable energy, taxation and defence cooperation.

Indian media reported that negotiators had struck a deal on civilian nuclear trade. The NDTV news channel said they had ironed out differences on suppliers' liability in the event of a nuclear accident and on tracking of material supplied.

The White House declined to comment on the reports and the spokesman for India's Ministry of External Affairs said only "we hope for a positive outcome at the end of the day".

Obama will be the first U.S. president to attend India's Republic Day parade, an annual show of military might long associated with the anti-Americanism of the Cold War, and will host a radio show with Modi.

His presence at Monday's parade at Modi's personal invitation is the latest revival in a roller-coaster relationship between the two largest democracies that just a year ago was in tatters.

US President Barack Obama waves, as Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, center, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi stand beside him during a ceremonial reception at the Indian presidential Palace in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Jan 25, 2015. (AFP)

"It's a great honour. We are grateful for this extraordinary hospitality," Obama said during a welcome at the presidential palace, where there was a guard of honour, a 21-gun salute and a stray dog running around the forecourt until it was chased away.


  Modi greeted Obama and his wife, Michelle, on the tarmac of the airport as they came down the steps from Air Force One on a smoggy winter morning. The two leaders hugged each other warmly.

According to protocol, the prime minister does not greet foreign leaders on their arrival, meeting them instead at the presidential palace. Modi made the decision himself to break with tradition and surprised even his own handlers, media reports said.

Obama then laid a wreath at Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, who is revered as the father of independent India.
The roads of New Delhi were lined with armed police and soldiers, part of a highly choreographed plan for the visit. Up to 40,000 security personnel have been deployed for the visit and 15,000 new closed-circuit surveillance cameras have been installed in the capital, according to media reports.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C), US President Barack Obama (L) and US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) wave as they pose for a photograph as the US president and his wife arrive at the start of an official visit in New Delhi. (AFP)
 

100 hand-woven silk saris for Michelle Obama

Indian weavers are planning to give US First Lady Michelle Obama 100 hand-woven silk saris during her visit to New Delhi with her husband, a local businessman said Sunday.

The weavers have spent months painstakingly making the garments which they hope will promote their centuries-old industry in India's holiest city Varanasi, as they face threats from cheaper, mass-produced competition.

US President Barack Obama who appreciates the Gandhi values received a 'chakra'  after he laid the wreath at  Mahatma Gandhi's memorial - the Raj Ghat prior to India's republic day celbrations.

Obama left the Rashtrapati bhavan - Indian President Pranab Mukherjee's residence after receiving 21-guns salute.

US President Barack Obama landed in New Delhi Sunday for the start of a three-day visit to India, receiving a hug from Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he disembarked from Air Force One.

Obama, who landed in the overcast capital at around 9:40am (0410 GMT), was accorded a red carpet welcome at the start of a visit which is seen as symbolising a new warmth in sometimes strained bilateral ties.

The two leaders are due to hold detailed talks later on Sunday on a range of issues including climate change, defence cooperation and a long-delayed civil nuclear power agreement.

Obama, who is the first US president to travel to India twice while in office, will also be the chief guest at Monday's Republic Day parade in the capital.

The visit, which follows a summit in Washington in September, comes less than a year since the Obama administration effectively ended its blacklisting of Modi.

The Hindu nationalist had been shunned by the United States and European Union following deadly communal riots in the western state of Gujarat in 2002 while Modi was the chief minister.

In an interview ahead of his arrival, Obama hailed the "remarkable" rise of the 64-year-old Modi, the son of a tea-seller who was elected the leader last year of the world's largest democracy.

Obama had been due to visit the Taj Mahal in the city of Agra on Tuesday, but he has scrapped that leg of his trip in order to attend the funeral of King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia.

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