US President will cut short India visit to pay respects in Saudi Arabia

President Barack Obama and the First Lady will travel to Saudi Arabia to pay respects following the death of King Abdullah, the White House said early Saturday. While the Saudi king’s simple funeral was held early Friday in accordance with Islamic tradition, the country will remain in mourning for three days.

Obama will cut short his three-day official trip to India and will fly to Riyadh on Tuesday to meet the new King Salman, spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.

The schedule change, which was announced shortly before Obama left for India, means the president will skip plans to see the Taj Mahal, and instead pay a call on an influential US ally in the volatile Middle East.

Vice President Joe Biden, who had been due to fly to Saudi Arabia, “will remain in Washington” the statement said.

The more substantive portions of Obama’s trip to India appeared unlikely to change.

Obama was due to arrive in the country on Sunday for meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then attend Monday’s annual Republic Day festivities, which mark the day in 1950 that India’s constitution came into force. Relations between the world’s two largest democracies are strengthening after recent tensions. Obama and Modi developed a good rapport during the prime minister’s visit in Washington last fall.

In India, Obama also planned to meet Modi and attend an economic summit with US and Indian business leaders.

Obama will be the first US president to visit India twice while in office; he also traveled there in 2010, for an economic summit.

His trip was expected to be heavy on symbolism and lighter on substantive advances, though climate change, economics and defense ties are on the agenda. Still, US and Indian officials appear to agree that even a symbolic show of solidarity would mark progress after recent difficulties.

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