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India Rolls Out Red Carpet — And Camels — For Obama's Second Visit

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In India today, a big parade complete with camels, dancers, military marching band and an American president. Barack Obama was the guest of honor at India's annual Republic Day Parade, an event marking the anniversary of the country's constitution. The president's participation also marks a new chapter in U.S.-Indian relations, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports from India.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The Republic Day parade in New Delhi, India, is as colorful and as varied as the country celebrates. The procession begins with a show of military muscle - Sikh soldiers in saffron turbans marching alongside tanks and bristling rocket launchers. Eventually, though, the camel-mounted military bands give way to an assortment of floats from Indian states and government ministries. There's a mechanized lion from the Department of Industrial Policy and even a float honoring the annual cardamom crop.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Singing in foreign language).

HORSLEY: President Obama took all this in from a closely guarded reviewing stand. He's the first American leader invited to attend this celebration, and that's seen as a signal of India's newfound willingness to cooperate with the United States. Obama says the U.S. and India should be natural partners. But thanks to leftover distrust from the Cold War era and bureaucratic inertia, the relationship is too often been defined by its untapped potential. Obama told a group of business leaders this afternoon he hopes to change that with the help of India's energetic new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let's make it possible for a young woman in a rural village to start a business with a partner in America that will change both their lives.

HORSLEY: One of the business leaders who met with Obama this afternoon was Daniel Roderick, the CEO of Westinghouse. His company is eager to build a nuclear power plant in India, but that project and others have been held up by concerns over liability and the tracking of nuclear material. The White House and the Modi government say they've reached a breakthrough to address those concerns. U.S. companies want more detail before they proceed with nuclear projects in India. But U.S. Ambassador Rich Verma says the two countries' governments are satisfied.

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RICHARD VERMA: Which we think now opens the door for U.S. and other companies to come forward and actually help India towards developing nuclear power and support its kind of non-carbon-based energy, which is so desperately needed.

HORSLEY: India is already the world's third-biggest carbon polluter after China and the U.S., and the problem could get worse as Modi's government works to extend electricity to hundreds of millions of Indians who don't now have it. With an international climate summit in Paris later this year, the world will be watching to see how far India is willing to go to cut greenhouse gases. White House climate guru John Podesta says Modi is anxious to bring more clean energy sources into the mix.

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JOHN PODESTA: The prime mister recognized that that there's no sustainable development path if we don't deal with climate change.

HORSLEY: The U.S. and India have also agreed to a 10-year extension of their military relationship and to jointly develop some new military technology. Much of the hardware on display in today's parade was made by the Russians. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes says by removing some long-standing stumbling blocks, Obama and Modi have cleared a path for a stronger partnership in the future.

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BEN RHODES: They were taught about the Asia-Pacific region strategically. They were talking about how to reach a global climate accord in Paris. By making the progress we've made here, I think we've opened up the door to do a lot more with India in the years to come.

HORSLEY: Obama is the first U.S. president to make two trips to India. He's already talking about the progress he hopes to see on his third visit. Scott Horsley, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.