Washington, June 3: President George W. Bush will fulfil in seven weeks a promise he made to Manmohan Singh when the two leaders met for the first time in New York last September: he will show the White House Oval Office to the Prime Minister.
Singh will make his first official visit to the US from July 18 to 20, it was announced today.
“Have you been to the Oval Office'” Bush had asked Singh at their first meeting in a question that has become infamously typical of several of Bush’s encounters with world leaders.
The Prime Minister replied in the negative and Bush told Singh he should make time to come to the Oval Office.
The levity of that encounter aside, India and the US are engaged in a huge effort to make Singh’s visit rise to the expectations of changing equations in Indo-US relations.
Thanks to that effort, Washington has become a mirror image of Parliament House or Raisina Hill in recent days.
There is a stream of cabinet ministers, political leaders, senior officials, captains of industry and informal advisers to the Prime Minister who are making their way here every day to add their bit to the success of Singh’s coming visit.
“India and the US are jointly engaged in the process of widening and deepening their multifaceted cooperative relationship,” a statement by the ministry of external affairs said today.
“The forthcoming visit of the Prime Minister to USA will take this process further based on a shared vision of the leaders of the two democracies.”
Commerce minister Kamal Nath, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, foreign secretary Shyam Saran, Ficci secretary-general Amit Mitra, Confederation of India Industry mentor Tarun Das have all been here in quick succession in the last few days.
Curiously, Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has arrived here as a personal guest of Indian ambassador Ronen Sen. Sen has been engaged in a tireless ' and so far successful ' effort with the Indian media and political establishment to keep a tight lid on dissent on contentious issues in Indo-US relations, such as the sale of F-16 planes to Pakistan.
During Chatterjee’s stay at his residence, the ambassador is expected to work on the Speaker to prepare the Left into toeing his line on Indo-US relations.
In a clear indication of what to expect during Singh’s talks here, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday: “It is pretty clear where India is going, and one would anticipate the relationship with India will continue to strengthen as we go through the period ahead.”