- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

And the first state dinner of President Obama’s administration goes to … India.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is coming to America for a state visit Nov. 24, just before Thanksgiving, and the Obama administration confirmed this week that a state dinner will cap off the visit. It’s a plum presidential nod of recognition for the world’s largest democracy and most stable U.S. ally in a hostile corner of the world.

But why India first?

It was just four years ago that President George W. Bush and Mr. Singh raised their glasses and toasted the U.S.-India relationship at the start of a July 2005 state dinner.

Indian officials, however, have watched warily since then as the U.S. has become more engaged with India’s archrival, Pakistan, focusing on greater military cooperation in dealing with Islamist extremists there and in neighboring Afghanistan.

Honoring Mr. Singh with what is considered one of the grandest and most glamorous of White House affairs 10 months into Mr. Obama’s presidency may allay some of those concerns, along with perceptions that Pakistan has surpassed India as America’s best friend in South Asia.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hand-delivered the state-visit invitation from Mr. Obama during her July trip to India.

After years of mutual wariness during the Cold War, U.S.-Indian relations are at a high point, thanks partly to the Bush administration’s push to allow American civilian nuclear trade with India. The Obama administration has used that accord as a foundation for improving ties and hopes of cooperation on the president’s priority issues, such as climate change and countering terrorism.

?We are very committed to this relationship,? Mrs. Clinton said of India when questioned about deepening U.S. relations with Pakistan.

Mr. Obama’s inaugural state dinner will be the talk of the town, perhaps second only to his inauguration and the parties that followed in terms of celebrity star power and got-to-be-there fever.

Responsibility for the planning falls to first lady Michelle Obama and her staff, and people will be waiting to see what twists she and her social secretary, Desiree Rogers, will put on one of the White House’s most staid traditions.

Mr. Bush held his first state dinner eight months into his administration. It was for Mexico, less than a week before the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

• AP writers Matthew Lee and Foster Klug contributed to this report.

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