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Obama to spend three days in India to start Asian trip

By Tom Cohen, CNN
  • President Barack Obama will visit Mumbai, New Delhi
  • Officials say visit symbolizes importance of U.S.-India relations
  • Obama wants to increase U.S. exports to India

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama begins a four-nation trip to Asia next week with three days in India to emphasize ties between the world's two largest democracies, top administration officials said Wednesday.

In a briefing to reporters, the officials said Obama hopes to help expand U.S. exports to India while increasing investments by Indian corporations in the United States.

The president's itinerary also includes high-profile appearances, including a speech to the Indian Parliament, a state dinner and laying a wreath at the grave of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, the officials said.

Obama's trip will continue to Indonesia, South Korea for the G-20 summit and then Japan for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation nations.

By starting in India, the president is signaling the importance of relations with a key economic ally, said Bill Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs.

"The simple truth is that India's rise and its strength and progress on the global stage is deeply in the strategic interest of the United States," Burns said, noting that Obama has called the U.S. relationship with India a "defining partnership of the 21st century."

"We're the world's two largest democracies," Burns continued. "We're both big, diverse, tolerant societies. We're two of the world's largest economies. We both have an increasing stake in global stability and prosperity, especially across Asia and the Pacific."

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, called India "a cornerstone of our broader Asia approach" focused on expanding U.S. exports and forging strong partnerships in the region.

Michael Froman, the deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, said India was "one of the most important emerging economic relationships for the United States."

"With 1.2 billion people and an economy expected to grow at 8 percent a year for the next several years, we really see India as a potentially very important market for U.S. exports," Froman said.

According to Rhodes, Obama departs for India on November 5, arriving the next day in Mumbai. He will attend a business conference there and visit the Gandhi Museum, then head to New Delhi for bilateral talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the speech to Parliament and the state dinner.

The trip also includes a town hall-style meeting with Indian students, a celebration of the Hindu holiday Diwali and a visit to Humayun's Tomb, an architectural precursor to the Taj Mahal.

First lady Michelle Obama will accompany the president in India and Indonesia, while the two first daughters will remain home to continue their schooling, Rhodes said.