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Bush arrives on three-day visit amid tight security

Written by: Staff
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New Delhi, Mar 1: US President George Bush arrived here this evening to a red carpet welcome on a three-day landmark visit to India giving a new dimension of bilateral relations as the two countries struggled to iron out differences on the civilian nuclear agreement.

Although the centerpiece of the visit, the first by Mr Bush and the fifth by a US President, is the July 18 civilian nuclear agreement, the agenda will cover cooperation in a wide variety of areas including space, Science and Technology, Agriculture, trade and commerce.

''The visit indicates maturation of relations between India and the US,'' Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said.

Reflecting the warmth in Indo-US relations, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh broke protocol and and received President Bush and his wife Laura. The Prime minister was accompanied by his wife Gursharan Kaur.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, Chief of Staff Andrew Card and other senior US State Department functionaries also arrived with the President.

Amid unprecedented security, they were given a rousing welcome as soon as the President's aircraft--Air Force One--landed at the Air Force Station, Palam, at 1935 hrs. The door opened at 1945 hrs and the first to emerge was President Bush, dressed in greyish black suit, and his wife. He was followed by the Secretary of State and other officials.

The two leaders waved to waiting shutterbugs and television cameras.

The two leaders, after shaking hands, spent about two minutes talking to each other and then posed for the photographers.

The body language of Mr Bush and Prime Minister Singh clearly indicated a warm relationship between the two leaders.

National Security Advisor (NSA) M K Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran were also present.

As lensmen clicked the US President and the Prime Minister, the two leaders were engaged in animated discussion for almost two minutes. Mr Bush then patted Mr Singh on the back before stepping into his black limousine to leave for Hotel Maurya Sheraton where he will stay for the next three days.

President Bush, who is on a five-day tour of South Asia, arrived here from Kabul (Afghanistan) where he had made an unscheduled halt.

From here he will go to Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, Mr Bush said US negotiators were trying to iron out differences with their Indian counterparts to wrap up an agreement for implementation of the civilian nuclear deal.

''It is a difficult issue for the Indian government. It is a difficult issue for the American government. So, we continue to have a dialogue and work and hopefully we can reach an agreement.

If not, we will continue to work on that until we do,'' he said.

Before the blue and white coloured Air Force One landed, helicopters hovered around the airfield which was sanitised.

Nearly 60 people of the US Secret Service were almost in every corner of the airfield. Besides there were men from Indian security agencies. Dog squads had been pressed into service.

Mr Bush does not have any official engagements today.

He begins his official engagements tomorrow with a ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He will later visit Rajghat.

From Rajghat, Mr Bush will go straight to the Hyderabad House for official talks with Dr Manmohan Singh.

He will have delegation-level talks tomorrow with the Prime Minister who will host a lunch for the US President.

President A P J Abdul Kalam will also host a banquet for Mr Bush.

UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Leader of Opposition L K Advani will call on him.

President Bush will also visit Hyderabad briefly and make an address at Purana Qila which would essentially be a message from the US to the people of India.

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