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September 15, 2000
PM's knee cuts short White House ceremony
Ramesh Arora in Washington
The fatigue of a hectic schedule coupled with osteoarthritis was clearly visible as a weary Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee walked up to the ceremonial welcome at the White House where he was received by President Bill Clinton.
Clinton walked a few more steps to receive the prime minister when he got down from the black limousine. Clinton held Vajpayee's hand when the two leaders walked towards the dias for the guard of honour.
Vajpayee walked with some difficulty, but took the salute with ease when the national anthems of the two countries were played by a colourful US army band in 18th century outfits. The two leaders stood side-by-side as the national anthems were played and guns boomed in the background. Vajpayee was given a 19-gun salute.
The customary inspection of guard of honour had to be dispensed with due to Vajpayee's knee problem. The welcome ceremony was cut short to avoid strain on the prime minister. As was the press conference due to be addressed by Clinton and Vajpayee after their summit on Friday
An array of Indian and US dignitaries lined up on the lush green lawns of the White House to receive the prime minister. After Clinton received Vajpayee, he was introduced to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Chief of General Staff H Shelton.
Dr Albright was seen exchanging pleasantries with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Najma Heptulla.
Clinton showered praises on India for its ''breath-taking strides'' in information technology, pioneering role in strengthening democratic institutions and commitment to forego future nuclear tests.
Welcoming Vajpayee, Clinton also hoped that peace in South Asia would be achieved through dialogue.
Complimenting India, the president said, "It leads in the community of democracies. India has made us understand that freedom and democracy were not Western values but a universal concept. It was not democracy alone but the manner in which India had achieved democracy that had inspired America."
Paying tributes to Mahatma Gandhi, he said, 'I was profoundly moved by the visit to the Gandhi memorial while in India in March.'' The president will attend the function along with Vajpayee to unveil the Mahatma's statue in the US capital.
rediff.com has assigned Associate Editors Amberish K Diwanji and Savera R Someshwar to cover Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to the United States. Don't forget to log into rediff.com for news of this historic visit as it happens!
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