Obama to cut short India trip, visit to Taj Mahal is off

US President Barack Obama’s scheduled trip to the Taj Mahal during his visit to India is off as he has to fly to Riyadh for the funeral of the late Saudi monarch King Abdullah.

Mr Obama has regretted he will miss the Taj during his first trip to India as the chief guest at the country’s Republic Day celebrations. He was scheduled to go to Agra on January 27, the last leg of his three-day trip to India.

“The President regrets that he will be unable to visit Agra during this trip,” said a statement from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on January 24, a day before Mr Obama touches down in Delhi on a historic trip that is expected to pitch the India-US relations onto a higher trajectory.

The US official added that “President Obama and the First Lady will travel to Riyadh on Tuesday January 27 in order to pay respects to King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the family of the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.”

Explaining the circumstances around the cancellation of the presidential visit to Agra, Mr Earnest said that US Vice- President Joe Biden was originally to have led a delegation to Saudi Arabia on the president’s behalf.  “As the President’s and Vice President’s travel schedules became clearer, we determined that the window when the Vice President would be on the ground in Riyadh coincided with the president’s departure from India.  Accordingly, we adjusted the schedule in coordination with the Indian government so that the president would be able to depart India following his speech on Tuesday to stop in Riyadh during the return trip to meet with King Salman and other Saudi officials and offer his condolences on behalf of the American people.”

President Obama could not go to the Taj Mahal during his maiden trip to India in 2010 and was keen to see the iconic white sandstone monument this time around. But fate decided otherwise.

The Taj Mahal, which has been variously described as a poem in stone, a moon-white dream and a tear on the face of humanity, has inspired poets, philosophers and statesmen down the ages. It’s now a must-see stop on the itinerary of visiting foreign leaders, providing them a much-needed respite from heavy duty diplomacy and realpolitick.


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