- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2015

President Obama’s trip to India this weekend is meant to foster closer ties with the country’s new prime minister on issues ranging from climate change to counterterrorism, White House officials said this week.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama will spend three days in India, arriving there Sunday for a visit that includes a viewing of the Taj Mahal, the annual Republic Day parade in New Delhi and a speech to a group of CEOs.

The president also will give a speech on Tuesday about U.S.-India relations.

“From the time the president took office, he’s made increasing U.S. engagement with India [a] top foreign policy priority,” said Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.

Mr. Obama will lobby Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost clean energy production, although White House aides say a formal agreement is unlikely. The president reached a handshake agreement in November with Chinese President Xi Jinping for both countries to limit or cut carbon emissions, although critics said it is both unenforceable and seeks to curb U.S. industries more than those in China.

Mr. Obama is trying to obtain concessions on climate change for major polluting nations ahead of a global climate summit in France later this year.

“You cannot achieve a successful international climate agreement through the Paris negotiations if the major emitters are not coming to the table with ambitious programs,” Mr. Rhodes said. “And the United States, China and India are at the front of that line together, of course, with Europe. That’s going to depend upon the progress we can make with India.”

Several Democratic members of Congress and U.S. business executives are going along for the ride with the Obamas on Air Force One. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, Rep. Ami Bera of California and Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York, co-chair of the House India caucus, all are making the trip.

“Congress has been deeply invested in advancing the relationship,” Mr. Rhodes said. “The U.S. business community has been invested in the relationship, as has the Indian diaspora here in the United States. We want to take this opportunity at a very momentous occasion to ensure that these different elements of the relationship are represented — Congress, the business community and, of course, also the relevant cabinet members.”

Among the White House aides on the trip will be presidential counselor John Podesta, White House National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. The Obamas’ daughters will not be accompanying them.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Modi developed a rapport during the prime minister’s visit to Washington last fall. Phil Reiner, the National Security Council’s senior director for South Asia, said the two men bonded in part because of their “humble origins” and their opportunity to rise to become leaders of their respective nations.

The president and his entourage will arrive back in Washington on Wednesday. India is the only stop on his itinerary, which is unusual for a presidential trip overseas.

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