In one of the most awaited meets scheduled to take place this year, US President Barack Obama on Monday hosted a private dinner for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was once shunned by America, at the White House.
The duo will hold summit level talks on Tuesday to reset stalled India-US relations.
After the dinner, Modi described the meet with Obama as “wonderful”, adding the duo discussed a number of issues.
n a Facebook post, Modi said: “With President Barack Obama. We had a wonderful meeting and talked about a wide range of issues. Both President Obama and I share a vision for a partnership in which our nations work together for the benefit of the entire humankind.”
Earlier, Modi was greeted at the doorstep of the White House by Obama with “Kem Chho” – the Gujarati equivalent of “Hello, how are you”. Modi replied, “Thank you very much, Mr President”.
Briefing reporters after the 90-minute meet, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin described the first talks between the two leaders at dinner as “convivial and comforting”.
The dinner, with limited guests from each side in the Blue Room of the White House might have a delectable spread of dishes, but the main guest only had warm water as he was observing Navratri fasts. However, Modi told Obama to “please go ahead as normal”.
First Lady Michelle Obama did not attend the dinner as she was travelling.
“The Prime Minister did not had anything except for warm water,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akabruddin said.
Knowing President Barack Obama’s admiration for Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted him a special reprint of the Father of the Nation’s interpretation of the Gita and some memorabilia associated with the American civil rights leader.
The US President keeps a statue of the Indian freedom leader in his office.
Keeping Obama’s great regard for Martin Luther King Jr in mind, Modi brought an All India Radio recording of King’s speech in India in 1958. There is also a framed photograph of King at Rajghat besides a small video clip from his 1959 visit to India.
These are Modi’s personal gifts to Obama, Akbaruddin said.
He has also brought some official gifts that would be given at the official bilateral meeting today.
On the issues of discussion during the dinner meeting, Akabruddin said discussions were largely on knowing each other and sharing the initial experiences after they took over.
They shared anecdotes to connect with each other, he said while describing the dinner meeting as a “very successful interaction”.
“They did not get to discuss any of the substantive issues. This was a very cordial and comforting conversation where each of them were trying to understand others perspective and they did not get into very substantive discussion which will follow tomorrow,” he added.
They agreed to take up more substantive issue tomorrow — both in restrictive format and in delegation level talks — but in general the thinking was that there was a lot of goodwill between India and the US for each other, he said.
“There was a feeling that they should try and focus on some big things that they can achieve in a finite time period in the next few years,” the spokesperson said.
“There was also a feeling that India-US relationship was among the most important relationships in the world today. And therefore, it was incumbent upon both of them to work towards strengthening and deepening this relationship,” he said.
The Prime Minister was asked to outline his vision of what were the issues he faced so far and how he was working on it, the spokesperson said.
“Remarkably some of those things the Prime Minister mentioned seemed to have resonance with President Obama, because he said he had similar concerns when he came in power.”
Giving example of how the two leaders connected, he said Prime Minister told Obama that when he came to Delhi he found that the technological infrastructure in the Indian capital was not even as good as Gujarat to which the US President said he had similar experience.
They both talked about their focus areas of technology and e-governance.