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Night of worry for Bush handlers

Washington, Feb. 15: President George W. Bush is due in New Delhi in a fortnight, but the silence over the dates for his visit is being attributed to worries within the Bush administration over suggestions that he should stay overnight in Hyderabad.

As of now, Bush will arrive in Delhi on March 1, but his official engagements will begin only on the following day.

These will include the usual routine: formal welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan, meetings with the President and the Prime Minister, delegation-level talks, official banquet and so on.

The sticking point is Bush’s programme on March 3. He is to go to Hyderabad, but opinion within the Bush administration is strongly in favour of the President making a day trip to the Deccan city, returning to New Delhi in the evening.

There are worries here that with America’s worldwide campaign against terrorism ' seen by some as an attack on Islam itself ' and the controversy over Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammad, he should avoid staying in Hyderabad and return to spend the night in the safety of the national capital.

To justify the rather awkward exercise of flying from New Delhi to Hyderabad, attending at least three events there and returning, all in a matter of a few hours, a lecture by Bush is being organised for the evening of March 3 in New Delhi.

All this will make Bush’s visit to Hyderabad a bit like his predecessor Bill Clinton’s cloak-and-dagger trip to Pakistan in 2000, which lasted a few hours.

Indeed, the same worries over the Hyderabad trip, which are stalling an announcement of Bush’s travel dates, also dominate his itinerary for Pakistan. Bush plans to leave India for Pakistan on the morning of March 4.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked yesterday if it was “wise for the President to possibly put himself in harm’s way by going to Pakistan” when violence over the Danish cartoons is raging there, causing several deaths each day.

“We have full confidence in the President’s security detail and the job that they do. The President’s trip remains on schedule, and the President looks forward to going to both India and to Pakistan in a few weeks,” he said.

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