NEW DELHI: US President Barack Obama has cut short his visit to India, cancelling a planned trip to the Taj Mahal, to “pay respects” to new King Salman in Saudi Arabia, the White House said Saturday.
Obama was scheduled to go to India’s famed monument to love accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama at the end of a three-day visit to the country, during which he is to be chief guest at Monday’s Republic Day celebrations.
Instead, the White House said Obama would travel to Riyadh from New Delhi on Tuesday morning to meet the new monarch after the death of Salman’s half-brother King Abdullah on Friday.
“The president regrets that he will be unable to visit Agra during this trip,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest in a statement, referring to the town where the Taj Mahal is located.
King Abdullah died aged about 90.
Vice-President Joe Biden had been due to represent the United States in Riyadh, where dignitaries and leaders from around the world were arriving in Saudi Arabia Saturday to offer their condolences.
The White House said Biden would now remain in Washington.
The cancellation of the Taj Mahal visit will, however, deprive India’s top tourist attraction of publicity at a time when the government is trying to boost visitor numbers.
Hundreds of cleaners had been hired to spruce up the white marbled mausoleum in Agra in preparation for the Obamas’ arrival on Tuesday.
Their time in Delhi will be covered by a massive press pack and organisers wanted to ensure a picture-perfect backdrop.
Twitter users rushed to thank the president for orchestrating a clean-up of the mausoleum in the town of Agra, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved empress who died during childbirth in 1631.
“It was just Obama’s clever plan to get Agra cleaned up. Thank you Obama,” posted one under the name Anamika.