Two days before he was to visit India’s iconic Taj Mahal, US president Barack Obama has cancelled his trip to the 17th-century monument of love.
He will now fly to Saudi Arabia where the oil rich nation has anointed a new head of state following the death of King Abdullah on Jan 23.
“The vice president was originally to have led a delegation to Saudi Arabia on the president’s behalf,” the White house said. “As the president’s and vice president’s travel schedules became clearer, we adjusted the schedule in coordination with the Indian government so that the President would be able to depart India following his speech on Tuesday to stop in Riyadh.”
Obama’s visit to India is his second in four years and the Indian government had deployed heavy security in Agra—where the Taj Mahal is located– and the civil administration had worked over time to beautify the city and secure the location.
The president was initially scheduled to leave India by the evening on Jan. 27, but will instead fly out after an open house meeting on the same afternoon.
The US had also requested the Indian authorities to block a highway connecting Delhi to Agra, before finally deciding to fly him there. Obama did not make it to Taj last time due to time constraints.
News reports, meanwhile, have suggested that the visit was cancelled due to a tiff between local administration and the Narendra Modi government. The local administration sought a special permission from India’s supreme court that had earlier disallowed vehicles near the monument.
India’s top court had ruled that all vehicles had to be stopped 500 metres away from the gate and the visitors had to use an electric vehicle to get to the monument, which was not acceptable to Obama’s security team, the Indian express reported.
“Basically,” a senior home ministry official said, “they told us to get an order from the supreme court, which was of course impossible in the time we had left.”