Obama breaks protocol to reach out to India

WASHINGTON: In a special gesture, President Barack Obama will attend a reception to be hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her Indian counterpart S M Krishna here, during which he will highlight opportunities for increased bilateral cooperation in areas like defence, trade, energy and climate change.

Setting aside protocol, Obama will drive down from the White House to the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department to attend the reception to be hosted for the External Affairs Minister and other members of his delegation, who are here for the first Indo-US Strategic Dialogue.

The President will be going to the State Department, where the Strategic Dialogue is to be held, "given his personal interest in further strengthening our bilateral partnership," US National Security Council spokesman, Mike Hammer, said.

At the conclusion of the Strategic Dialogue, Obama would personally speak to members of visiting Indian delegation led by Krishna and those of his administration.

"The President will use the opportunity to speak to the Indian and US delegations to highlight the potential and opportunities of increased close cooperation, including in the areas of defence, trade, energy and climate change," Hammer told PTI.

Obama's gesture to attend the reception tonight for the External Affairs Minister is being considered as rare on the part of the US President.

US officials say Obama, despite having to spend much of his time on pressing issues like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, the Middle East and Korean peninsula, has shown personal interest in building strategic relationship with India.

On Tuesday, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns, said like the previous two Presidents, Bill Clinton and George W Bush, Obama has laid a strong and consistent emphasis on the enormous stake that the US has in India's emergence as a global power.

"When he invited Prime Minister Singh to the White House last year for the first State Visit of the new administration, the President called the US-Indian relationship one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century," he said at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In a new National Security Strategy released last week, Obama underscored that expanding partnership with India will remain one of his highest priorities.

Notably, Obama has also called India an indispensable partner.

"Obama Administration attaches great importance to our relations with India, and as President Obama himself has said, this will be one of our signature partnerships in the 21st century," Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, said.

"That was shown by the President's decision to invite Prime Minister Singh (for his Presidency's first State Visit). It's shown by the huge number of dialogues that we have. It's shown even more by the huge private sector component to our relations and all of the people-to-people contacts that we have.

"If anything, in our case, it's the governments who are catching up to the people in terms of all of the many, many ties that exist at so many levels of our two countries," Blake said.