Freedom of religion as important as freedom of people: Haley

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New Delhi, June 27 (PTI): Freedom of religion is as important as freedom of peoples, the US envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Wednesday on the first day of her India visit.

Haley, the 46-year-old Indian-American, said she is looking forward to an inter-faith tour scheduled in her itinerary for tomorrow. She is expected to visit a temple, a mosque and a church here.

She also said there were opportunities in the Indo-US relationship at multiple levels, including on counter-terrorism, and her visit was aimed at solidifying the partnership between the two oldest democracies in the world.

Accompanied by the US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster, Haley began her India tour with a visit to the majestic tomb of Mughal emperor Humayun on Wednesday morning.

“We think freedom of religion is just as important as freedom of rights and freedom of peoples,” she told reporters.

Describing her visit as a home-coming, Haley said, “It makes my heart happy to be back in India. It is as beautiful as I remember it to be. It’s always good to be back home.”

“My parents said I was crazy to come at this time of the year because it is so hot, but it is worth,” she said. Haley, who is on her first visit to India after becoming the US envoy to the UN, also talked about strength of the US-India relationship and said the two countries were the oldest democracies that share values of people, of freedom and of opportunities.

She said there were opportunities between the US and India at multiple levels, including in counter-terrorism and military cooperation.

“In this day and time, we see more and more reasons for India and the US to come together. I am here to once again solidify our love for India, our belief in the friendship India and the US have and our willingness to make that relationship even more stronger,” she said.

She lauded the preservation of Humayun’s Tomb, saying it was a reminder of the importance given by India to culture. “Humayun’s Tomb is a reminder of how much we value culture and how much India values culture. The preservation that has happened here is a reminder that we all remember where we came from and we have to preserve it for the future,” she said.

Later in the day, Haley also met Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi and reiterated America’s commitment to ending child trafficking. She met Satyarthi at the ‘Mukti Ashram’, a short-term rehabilitation home for rescued children, here to discuss children’s rights, human rights and security matters, according to a statement by Satyarthi’s office.

During her India visit, Haley is expected to meet senior Indian leaders, officials, business leaders and students to underscore America’s “strong alliance” with the country, the US government had said ahead of her visit..

Talks between Haley, the highest ranking Indian-American in the Donald Trump administration, and Indian officials could include a host of topics including India-US strategic ties and significant global developments.

Haley’s visit comes just days before the US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis will host External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Washington for the inaugural US-India ‘2+2’ Dialogue on July 6.

Haley had also visited India in late 2014 when she was the South Carolina Governor. Haley, the daughter of Sikh immigrants from Punjab, is the first Indian-American to serve in a Cabinet-level position in any US presidential administration.

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