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Obama hails 'friendship between a President and a PM'

Last updated on: November 25, 2009 10:26 IST
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday night arrived at the White House to attend the state dinner hosted by US President Barack Obama.

This is the first state dinner hosted by Obama since his inauguration in office in January.

Obama, along with his wife Michelle, warmly welcomed the PM and his wife Gursharan Kaur.

Obama surprised the PM and the other invitees by welcoming them in Hindi, saying, "Aapka swagat hai (You are welcome)"

"Many of you were here when I was honored to become the first President to help celebrate Diwali -- the Festival of Lights.  Some of you were here for the first White House celebration of the birth of the founder of Sikhism -- Guru Nanak. Tonight, we gather again, for the first state dinner of my presidency -- with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mrs Gursharan Kaur, as we celebrate the great and growing partnership between the United States and India," Obama told the high-profile gathering.

"Mr Prime Minister, today we worked to fulfill our duty --bring our countries closer together than ever before.  Tonight, under the stars, we celebrate the spirit that will sustain our partnership -- the bonds of friendship between our people. It's a bond that includes more than two million Indian Americans who enrich every corner of our great nation.  And it's the bond of friendship between a President and a Prime Minister who are bound by the same unshakable spirit of possibility and brotherhood that transformed both our nations,"  he said.

Obama also quoted India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in his speech, saying, " Nehru's words speak to our hopes tonight:  'The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the great triumphs and achievements that await us. The past is over and it is the future that beckons us now.'"

At the end of his speech, Obama lightheartedly enquired if Dr Singh had a glass for the toast, and quipped, "Just logistically, we want to make sure the prime minister has a glass here".

Dr Singh started the state dinner with a short speech, in which he thanked President Obama and also stressed on the importance of Indo-US ties.

"I feel privileged to be invited to this first state banquet, Mr President, under your distinguished presidency. You do us and the people of India great honor by this wonderful gesture on your part.  We are overwhelmed by the warmth of your hospitality, the courtesy you have extended to us personally, and the grace and charm of the First Lady," he said.

Mentioning Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr Singh said, "We warmly applaud the recognition of the Nobel Committee of the healing touch that you have provided and the power of your idealism and vision. Your leadership of this nation coincides with profound changes in the world".

Batting for stronger Indo-US ties, the PM said, "We need to find new pathways of international cooperation that respond more effectively to the grave challenges caused by the growing interdependence of nations. As two leading democracies, India and the United States must play a leading role in building a shared destiny for all humankind. A strong and sustained engagement between our two countries is good for our people and, equally, it is highly important for the world as a whole."

Wishing President Obama and the American people a happy thanksgiving, Dr Singh said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to join me in a toast to the health and happiness of President Barack Obama and the First Lady, Mrs. Obama, the friendly people of the United States of America, and stronger and stronger friendship between India and the United States of America".

Besides several Senators and Congressmen, the high-profile guest list included CBS news anchor Katie Couric, actor Kal Pen, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and film-maker Steven Spielberg.

The menu at the dinner included potato and egg plant salad, red lentil soup with fresh cheese, roasted potato dumpling with tomato chutney, chick peas and okra or green curry prawns and coconut and basmati rice.

The dessert platter comprised pumpkin pie tart, pear tatin, whipped cream and caramel sauce.

The hottest social event at the White House since Obama assumed office in January this year will also dish out a rich cultural fiesta featuring Oscar winning Indian musician A R Rehman and American singer Jennifer Hudson.

Image: US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcome Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur for a State Dinner at the White House | Photograph: Paresh Gandhi

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