President Obama and the first lady have begun their nine day, four country foreign trip with a first stop in India -- a country that will hold the distinction of Obama's longest visit to any single country of his presidency so far.
The first couple landed in India Saturday morning, and will visit two cities, Mumbai and New Delhi, over four days.
The length of the trip was a move the White House did by design.
"India is a cornerstone of our broader Asia approach," said Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication, which "is focused on again, expanding exports for U.S. goods, deepening partnerships in [an] important part of the world, partnering together in the G20 and other forums."
And it's that "broader Asia approach" some experts say, the White House is most focused on. Of course trade is an important issue, which will be discussed throughout the visit, as India is the 17th largest market for exported U.S. goods and U.S exports to India doubled between 2005 and 2009. That's a growth rate six times faster than our exports to the rest of the world.
Then there is the strategic military and counter-terrorism relationship - the U.S. conducts more military exercises with India than with any other country. But again, that "broad Asia approach" is the language some experts fixate on.
"Any time any American official talks about relations with India, they are looking at India in an Asian context," says Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Translation? Think China. "The United States is betting the future of its role in Asia on the development of a broad -based, diverse power structure there, capable of absorbing China's rise in an atmosphere of peace and serious economic engagement," says Schaffer.
It's an observation the Obama administration acknowledges. "We don't feel like there needs to be a choice between a cooperative U.S.-China relationship and these broader relationships that we have in Asia," said Rhodes in a briefing with reporters. "If we look at our record over the last few years, one of the things we're most proud of is putting those alliances with Korea and Japan on a firmer footing...and then dealing with the partnership in India that has such enormous potential," Rhodes said, referencing two of the other three stops Mr. Obama will make this week.
But Schaffer argues, "India is perhaps the most important moving part in this scenario, and that is the major reason for his travel to India and for the Asia-centric structure of the trip."
"Frankly, it is a relationship that, because it's between two democracies, has a kind of qualitative potential that is unique," said Rhodes. "The U.S. and India, as the world's two largest democracies, share interests but we also share values. And that opens the doors to cooperation bilaterally but also cooperation in the region and around the world."
And that bilateral cooperation will be on display this week, as it has been in previous years.
It was the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was welcomed to the White House just a year ago for President Obama's first State Dinner, an honor which will be reciprocated Monday night in New Delhi. And while Singh and former President Bush had a strong relationship - illustrated by the U.S.-India nuclear deal, and Mr. Singh's praise at their last joint appearance together in which he told Mr. Bush "the people of India deeply love you." Experts say Mr. Obama and the Indian Prime Minister share good relations as well.
"Obama and Singh are both cerebral, professorial types," says Schaffer. "So they speak the same language."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., spoke Friday in Washington on the strategic and important relationship with India, especially when it comes to security and terrorism.
"The main challenge to this common vision, as well as a central threat to U.S. and Indian security, is the violent Islamist extremism emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan. He talked about how by chance his last visit was just after the deadly Mumbai attacks two years ago and how impressed he was with the prime minister's reaction.
"This only reaffirmed my deep-seated belief that India has every sovereign right to defend itself, its people, and its democratic way of life. And the United States should continue to support this goal through enhanced intelligence sharing and counterterrorism cooperation," McCain said.
The president and first lady will start their visit commemorating the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks by visiting a memorial - known in India as the 26/11 Memorial, for the 26th of November 2008, when the attacks occurred. The memorial at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel - one of the 10 sites where 31 of the nearly 200 people killed in coordinated attacks - is where the Obamas will stay during their Mumbai visit. The Obamas will sign a guest book after which the president will deliver remarks.
The first couple will also visit Mahatma Ghandi's residence - Mani Bhavan. When they visit New Delhi on Monday, the Obamas will lay a wreath at Raj Ghat, Ghani's Mausoleum. These cultural stops are of some personal interest to the president, who frequently references Martin Luther King, Jr., who followed Ghandi's teaching of peaceful resistance.
The White House says the "centerpiece" for the president's first day in India will be his attendance and then remarks at the Business Council and Entrepreneurship Summit. According to Rhodes, the focus of the president's remarks will be on "the U.S./India economic relationship, the enormous potential for both countries to expand growth and opportunity for our people through that relationship."
Sunday will be the president's first full day in country, when he and the first lady will participate in a Diwali celebration at a Mumbai high school. Diwali is known as the celebration of lights, and is said to symbolize the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. The first couple will attend a Diwali candle lighting and performance before heading to a town hall with college students. The Obamas will then travel to New Delhi for dinner with the Prime Minister and Mrs. Kaur.
On Monday is the first full day in Indian capital for the president and first lady, who will participate in an arrival ceremony and visit Ghandi's Mausoleum, after which it's down to business. Mr. Obama and Mr. Singh have scheduled meetings and a joint press conference, their second together, after which the president will address the Indian Parliament - not just anyone can address the Parliament, as it is by invitation only. Of course it's a day of honor, as the president and first lady will also be welcomed to the presidential palace for a State Dinner.
The Obamas awake in India Tuesday, and head on to Jakarta.