President Obama visited the site of the 2008 terrorist attacks here Saturday, making it the first stop of his two-week trip to Asia in order to convey a message to plotters of that attack and others.
“In our determination to give our people a future of security and prosperity,” he said, “the United States and India stand united.”
Obama spoke with a group of hotel employees and other survivors gathered in a hotel courtyard shortly after checking into the hotel. He is the first foreign head of state to stay at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel since the attacks, an event known in India by the shorthand 26/11.
In a scene some local newscasters compare to President Bush’s bullhorn declaration from the rubble of the World Trade Center, Obama then stood in a hotel plaza overlooking the Arabian Sea to issue his own defiant message.
“By striking the places where our countries and people come together,” he said, “those who perpetrated these horrific attacks hoped to drive us apart . . . (but) today the United States and India are working together more closely than ever to keep our people safe.”
Later the president visited a museum devoted to the life of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. He also plans to meet with some 200 American business leaders who have traveled to India to join Obama at a business roundtable promoting trade between the two nations.
First and foremost, said Obama’s economic point man, the trip is about improving trade relations and creating new opportunities for American jobs.
Nevertheless, as the first event of his four-day stay in India, Obama chose to highlight the terrorist attacks and what he said was a shared commitment to fighting extremists around the world.
During the attacks two years ago, millions watched horrific and vivid images of smoke pouring from the windows of this hotel, in a coordinated attack by a terrorist organization based in Pakistan. More than 170 people died.
Fully renovated since then, the Taj hotel now stands as a symbol of India’s resilience, administration officials say. Obama wanted to recognize India’s rejection of terrorism, according to close advisers.
One of those who met with Obama today was Karambir Singh Kang, the hotel manager. He lost his wife, Niti, and their two sons in the attacks, but then went on to help save others.
“Mumbai is a symbol of the incredible energy and optimism that defines India in the 21st century,” Obama said. “And ever since those horrific days two years ago, the Taj has been the symbol of the strength and the resilience of the Indian people.”