Washington: US President Barack Obama on Tuesday described India as an indispensable player in global politics, saying it was an ideal time for both countries to move forward in the bilateral relationship.
Obama made the remarks as he and First Lady Michelle Obama personally welcomed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur at the White House.
Standing before photographers and television cameras in the East Room, Obama said: "Mr Prime Minister, yours is the first official visit of my presidency and it is fitting that you and India be so recognized."
Citing the two countries` shared history of struggle against imperialism, Obama told Dr Singh: "As the world`s largest democracies, we can keep faith with our common values: speaking out and standing up for rights and dignity to which all human beings are entitled."
The US President said India and the US can become partners in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, and can stand together and cooperate in fighting terrorism.
`India a leader`
Describing India as a leader in Asia as well as around the world, the US President said “ours is the story of two economic marvels”.
India and the US are two Republics dedicated to ideas of liberty and freedom, he added.
On his part, PM Manmohan Singh thanked the US President for the grand welcome, saying he was “deeply honoured to be in the US on first State Visit of your presidency”.
“India and America are separated by distance but bound by values of democracy, rule of law and respect for human freedom,” Dr Singh said.
“Over the years we have built upon values and created a partnership based on principles and pragmatism,” the PM stated.
"We seek to broaden and deepen our strategic partnership and to work with the United States to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world in this 21st century," he added, pledging to help pursue the goal of "a world free of nuclear weapons".
Talking about his visit, the PM said he was in the US to build upon the successes and strengthen the multi-faced partnership. “This is the moment of great opportunity in our relationship,” he said.
The PM also deeply appreciated Obama’s strong commitment to bilateral relationship.
Dr Singh is Obama’s first State Guest ever since he became the president of the US earlier this year. Immediately after according a rousing welcome to the Indian PM, both the leaders sat down at the Oval Office for bilateral talks during which the two nations are expected to take their strategic ties to a new level.
Michelle Obama meanwhile hosted Gursharan Kaur at tea in the Yellow Oval Room.
The elaborate ceremonial welcome, which was planned at the White House lawns, had to be shifted to the sprawling mansion due to the rains.
National Anthems of both India and the US were also played during the ceremony.
The two leaders are also expected to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues and the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan during their one-on-one meeting.
Though the two leaders met in April on sidelines of the G-20 Summit in London and briefly at Pittsburgh`s G-20 Summit, this would be for the first time they would discuss bilateral issues and possibilities of cooperation on key global issues like climate change.
The two leaders are understood to have exchanged views on a range of issues, including terrorism, situation in the region, climate change, economic and business ties, agriculture and education.
This is Dr Singh`s second State Visit to the US; he also met with former president George W Bush in 2005. The Prime Minister is also expected to have registered India`s concerns over diversion of US aid by Pakistan and press for ensuring accountability to prevent misuse of funds and equipment.
After the meeting and discussions between the delegations of two countries, Dr Singh and Obama will jointly address a press conference and issue a joint statement reflecting the strengthening of the relationship between the two countries.
The two countries will sign a number of pacts, including an MoU on Counter-Terrorism to provide a legal framework for stepped up cooperation against the menace, and discuss the problem of climate change ahead of the Copenhagen Summit.
The Prime Minister has indicated that he would seek a "more liberal" US technology transfer to India and an early implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal.
The most anticipated part of the entire trip however has been the State Dinner, when Obama and Michelle will host the first black-tie dinner for the Prime Minister.
An invitation to the dinner is believed to be the hottest ticket in Washington this week.
While no official list has been announced so far, media reports say that some 400 people have been invited to the dinner, which would have the President and the First Lady`s personal touch, including on the menu and entertainment.
Grammy- and Oscar-award-winning singer and actress Jennifer Hudson will entertain the black-tie crowd, sources said.