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Obama to visit India in January: White House

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama will travel to India in January for its Republic Day celebrations and talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the White House said Friday.

His trip follows up on Modi’s debut visit to Washington as India’s leader in September.

The charismatic Hindu nationalist prime minister has been courted by the United States as a key partner in its attempt to rebalance US diplomatic weight toward Asia.

“The president will meet with the prime minister and Indian officials to strengthen and expand the US-India strategic partnership,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Earnest did not give a precise date for the trip, but Republic Day commemorates the adoption of India’s constitution on January 26, 1950.

The White House said Obama would be the first US president to attend India’s Republic Day celebration.

In November, the two countries reached a breakthrough agreement in a bitter row over food subsidies that for months had been blocking a landmark global agreement to reduce trade barriers.

The deal marked a crucial step towards the full implementation of a World Trade Organization agreement reached in December 2013 in Bali, which would streamline global customs procedures.

In September, Obama lauded Modi’s “energy and determination” as the two stressed common goals — and had a “candid” discussion about the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement.

Modi’s visit also allowed both sides to repair the damage inflicted by a recent series of spats, including a crisis last December when US authorities arrested and then strip-searched an Indian diplomat in New York for allegedly mistreating her housekeeper.

The warm welcome struck a sharp contrast to Modi’s previous treatment by Washington, which refused him a visa in 2005 on human rights grounds over anti-Muslim riots in his home state of Gujarat.

Modi — who won India’s biggest electoral victory in three decades in the April-May polls — denies wrongdoing and was never charged over the violence that killed more than 1,000 people.

India’s Republic Day is marked by a massive, colorful parade in New Delhi that celebrates the South Asian country’s ethnic diversity — and offers it a chance to display its military hardware.

Each year, India hosts the leader of a foreign country as guest of honor for the parade.

In recent years, guests have included Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, a White House press aide said Friday Obama had made a call to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of India’s great rival Pakistan.

“President Obama and Prime Minister Sharif reaffirmed the valued relationship between the two countries and the importance of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue as a framework for guiding the bilateral relationship,” Eric Schultz said.

The call follows recent skirmishes between Pakistani and Indian troops in disputed Kashmir, which both countries administer in part but both claim in full. -AFP

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