Mumbai, Nov. 6 (ANI): U.S. President Barack Obama began his four-day visit to India on Saturday by skipping a direct reference to Pakistan while emotively remembering victims of the 26/11 terror attack at the famed Taj Mahal Palace and Towers, much of which was reduced to a charred shell almost two years ago.
President Obama and U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, who arrived in Mumbai on Saturday afternoon, were flown from the Chhattrapati Shivaji Airport to the hotel in Marine One, the official helicopter of the U.S. President, where they will stay.
They are symbolically staying at the hotel out of respect for victims of the devastating terror attacks that tore through Mumbai's heart in November 2008, leaving 166 people dead.
President Obama and his wife began by looking at an inscription on a wall, called the "Tree of Life", dedicated to the victims who died at the hotel. It read: "For now and forever you will inspire us."
The Obamas then signed a book commemorating their visit to the hotel.
Obama upon arrival in Mumbai at 12.50 pm headed straight to the iconic sea-side hotel and viewed the 26/11 memorial and met the families of the victims, survivors.
A visibly sombre Obama, then addressed a small gathering by the Taj with the Gateway of India in the backdrop. He said: "There's a reason for us beginning our visit in this historic city. Mumbai is a symbol of the energy and optimism that defines India. And ever since those horrific days two years ago, the Taj has been the symbol of strength and resilience of the people of India."
Obama poignantly added, "Yes, we are here to give a clear message that India and the US stand united, adding, "We will never forget awful images of the 26/11 attacks, the flames from Taj Hotel that lit up the skies on those four days of November, 2008."
"The Taj has been a symbol of the determination and resilience of the people of India. By staying here, we want to send out a message, we want our people secure," said Obama, after visiting the Tree of Life memorial at the Taj.
The US President recalled all the acts of heroism on that fateful day in 2008, and made special mention of the hotel manager Karambir Kang, who stayed back in the hotel to help, inspite of losing his own family in the attack.
Obama concluded on an emotional note by quoting India's first prime minister Jawharlal Lal Nehru's words on the death of Mahatma Gandhi: "We will never allow the torch of freedom to be blown out however high the wind or stormy the tempest."
In all, five Americans were killed in that 60-hour mayhem in November 2008 that also targetted the Trident Hotel, the CST Terminus, the Chabad House and Cafe Leopold.
Of the five Americans, three were killed at Trident Hotel and two at the Chabad House.
Obama will visit Hotel Trident later on Saturday where he will address CEOs and US-India Business Council meeting.
He will also visit Mani Bhavan, from where Mahatma Gandhi launched several stages of the freedom movement, and pay homage to the Father of the Nation.
On Sunday, in Mumbai, he will celebrate Diwali in a children's home and then witness an agriculture exposition before leaving for Delhi in the evening.
In Delhi, Obama will visit Humayun's Tomb on Sunday evening and will attend a private dinner to be hosted by Prime Minister Singh at his residence.
On Monday, the American President will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in which the two sides will discuss steps to take the relationship qualitatively to a new high.
The talks are expected to focus on issues with dual use technologies, terrorism, strengthening economic ties, cooperation in security, defence and agriculture and regional matters like the situation in Pakistan.
One of the highlights of his engagements in Delhi would be his address to members of Parliament on Monday evening before attending a banquet hosted by President Pratibha Patil.
Before leaving on his four-nation Asia tour starting with India, Obama said he would be talking about opening up of additional markets in countries like India as American jobs depended greatly on American exports.
He said his administration had set a goal of doubling US exports over the next five years to create more jobs back home.
"It is absolutely clear that the key to creating new jobs is opening markets for American goods made by American workers. And that is why on the trip I am undertaking, I will be talking about opening up additional markets in places like India," said Obama.
Pointing out that American businesses need to sell more products abroad for creating more jobs at home, Obama said: "I am looking very much forward to helping to pry open markets for American businesses".
He said focusing on the future, rather than on the "next election" was key to the success of the American future. (ANI)