US President Barack Obama began his 10-day trip to Asia on a sombre note today, paying tribute to the victims of the devastating terror attacks that tore through Mumbai two years ago.
Speaking at the Taj Mahal hotel, a target of the 60-hour siege that killed 166 people across the Indian city, the president vowed: “We’ll never forget,” and said he intended to send a signal by staying at the hotel during his visit to the city.
“The United States and India stand united,” he added.
The president met privately with relatives of those killed in the November 2008 attack and joined First Lady Michelle Obama to visit an outdoor memorial, a fountain with floating flowers, just off the lobby at the Taj.
He also signed a memorial book, writing: “The United States stands in solidarity with all of Mumbai and all of India in working to eradicate the scourge of terrorism.”
But illustrating the difficulties of the US-India relationship even as Mr Obama began a trip aimed at strengthening it, Indian commentators quickly seized on the president’s failure in his spoken remarks to mention Pakistan.
Pakistan was the home of the 10 assailants, the place where they trained and the base they used to launch the attack.
Pakistan is also India’s arch-rival – but is key to Washington and its allies in the war in Afghanistan.
Mr Obama said the US and India were working together more closely than ever to keep their people safe, describing the countries as “two partners that will never waver in our defence of our people”.
The president then visited a museum in a home where Mohandas Gandhi once lived.
Signing a guestbook there, Mr Obama wrote that Gandhi “is a hero not just to India, but to the world”, while his wife promised to “always treasure” the visit.
Mr Obama was set to address American and Indian business leaders later and was expected to announce trade and export deals worth billions to the US.