leaders’ relationship an ‘unanticipated surprise’
PRESIDENT Barack Obama welcomed India’s prime minister Narendra Modi to the White House this week in a lowkey nod to the im proved ties between the world’s biggest democracies.
Obama invited Modi for one of the last big visits by a world leader before his term ends in January. Although the trip won’t feature a lavish state dinner, the Indian leader will address both houses of Congress, considered a rare honour.
For Modi, the visit is a time to consolidate what has been already achieved and set the stage for what he hopes will be a mushrooming in US-India trade from $120 billion (£82bn) to $500bn (£344bn).
Ahead of the trip, India’s foreign secretary S Jaishankar said Obama had invited Modi as one of the leaders with whom “he had a close and productive working relationship”.
“So, in many ways, you can say it is sort of a consolidation visit,” Jaishankar added
This will be their seventh meeting since Modi became prime minister in May 2014, an impressive tally for a US president and a leader who is not a formal ally, said Ashley Tellis at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
“The personal relationship between the president and the prime minister is really one of the unanticipated surprises of the past two years,” said Tellis, an expert on India.
The developing relationship is seen as an Obama foreign policy success. Washington views India as an important part of its rebalance to Asia and as a counterweight to China.
The two countries are finalising agreements that would make it possible for their militaries to cooperate more closely, and for US defence manufacturers to both sell and make hightech weaponry in India.
A deal on logistics would address issues such as how the two countries account for costs of military exercises. Another agreement involves encrypted communications and geospatial data transfer.
Modi was at the Arlington National Cemetery on Monday (6) for a wreath-laying ceremony and later meet think-tank scholars.
He was set to have a working lunch with Obama on Tuesday, as Eastern Eye went to press, followed by a series of meetings with US business leaders and members of the three million strong Indian-American community.
On Wednesday (8), he will become the fifth Indian prime minister to address a joint session of the US Congress, and afterwards will be hosted at a reception for dignitaries.
Officials played down the chances of major announcements during the visit, but noted India is very close to a deal with US electric giant Westinghouse to build a nuclear plant.
“There is a detailed and advanced negotiation,” Arun Singh, India’s ambassador to the United States, said.
The multi billion dollar deal to provide power to India’s growing, energy-hungry populace had been on hold because of concerns about site safety in Modi’s home state Gujarat.
But a new location for the six-reactor plant has been found in Andhra Pradesh and concerns about insurance have been ironed out, Singh said.
Another potential arena for greater cooperation is in the military and security arena.
India has made the US its main arms supplier, spending $14bn (£9.6bn) over the past five years. But it also spends heavily with French, Israeli and Russian suppliers.
The two countries are negotiating a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), although it is not clear whether a final draft will be ready for Modi to sign on his visit.
This arrangement, long-sought by Washington, will allow the two militaries to seek supplies and spare parts from each other’s bases.
Singh did not say if an agreement was imminent – India also wants to acquire advanced US arms technology – but noted that Indian and US troops now train together regularly. (AFP).