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Obama's Stop at Sikh Golden Temple During India Visit Unclear

The Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine, in Amritsar, India (file photo)

The White House says President Barack Obama is preparing for his trip to Asia beginning early next month, even as he intensifies his campaign activities in support of Democrats in the November 2 congressional mid-term elections. But, White House officials have declined on the record comment about Indian media reports that Mr. Obama may not visit The Golden Temple, the spiritual center of the Sikh religion, in the city of Amritsar, during his stay in India.

The White House has not yet released the final detailed itinerary for President Obama's Asia trip, which will begin with a stop in India, before he goes on to Indonesia, South Korea and Japan.

Amritsar was believed to be on the itinerary, along with Mumbai, and New Delhi where Mr. Obama is expected to address the Indian parliament.

Indian news reports on Tuesday said a reported plan for Mr. Obama to visit The Golden Temple in Amritsar had been dropped.

The New York Times,
in a New Delhi dateline report, quoted what it called an American official involved in planning as saying a visit to the revered Sikh religious complex had been ruled out.

The question of a Golden Temple stop during Mr. Obama's visit did not come up during Tuesday's regular White House briefing.

However, late in the day in response to an inquiry on the matter, a White House official said: "there are many more events that the president would like to do, and sites that U.S. advance teams visit, than Mr. Obama will have time for during a three day visit." The official added that the White House will advise when the president's intinerary is finalized.

Indian news reports quoted Sikh officials as saying that among other issues U.S. advance teams had discussed regarding a possible presidential visit to The Golden Temple, was how Mr. Obama would cover his head, as required in Sikh tradition.

However, reports have also attributed a decision to drop a visit to The Golden Temple to "logistical problems."

The head of a special committee in India responsible for maintaining religious sites was quoted as saying Mr. Obama would be welcome regardless of the type of head covering he chose to wear in keeping with Sikh religious tradition.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president is having fairly regular meetings with his national security team to ensure a successful visit to India, and he stressed to reporters the importance of the U.S.-India relationship.

"This is an important relationship," said Gibbs. "It was the first state dinner that was held here. I think that gives you a degree of understanding in terms of the significance that this government and this administration puts on that relationship."

The president is scheduled to depart on his trip to India, and other Asian stops, after the U.S. congressional midterm elections on November 2.