Prime Minister Narendra Modi will embark on his fourth visit to the US (June 7-8) after assuming power in 2014. This will be his first bilateral State visit to the US; all earlier tours were for multilateral or inter-governmental meetings during which President Barack Obama was firmly in the saddle. Now he has barely eight months of his term left. But US presidents tend to become more assertive in the last year of their tenure.
Ob am a has several achievements and the strong upward trajectory in India-US relations in the last two years is a matter of satisfaction for both leaders. The expansion of the partnership between the US and India has been a significant success of Modi’s foreign policy and there is a growing convergence of strategic interests.
A significant highlight during this trip will be Modi’s address to the joint session of the US Congress. This will provide him an opportunity to chart out his vision of ties between India and the US and how the two can collaborate to ensure peace, security and prosperity in the world. The US Congress has always been supportive of closer ties between the two nations and Modi will be the fifth Indian PM to address the session. This demonstrates the bipartisan support that India enjoys in the US Congress.
Defence is an important area in bilateral ties. The US has overtaken Russia to become the largest defence supplier to India. From$300 million eight years ago, the US has orders worth $14 billion today. It is likely that three defence agreements — Logistics Support Agreement, Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement, and Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement — will be inked during Modi’s visit. This will open the way for even closer cooperation in this area.
Another significant development is the recent move by a bipartisan US Senate group in exhorting the US defence secretary to establish closer military and intelligence cooperation with India, at the same level as the country has with its Nato allies.
The visit could also lead to an agreement on establishing six nuclear power plants in India. The decks were cleared during Obama’s visit to India when the issue of liability for a nuclear accident was resolved.
Discussions are also likely on the long-pending Bilateral Investment Agreement. Hopefully, there will be some progress is although a final text is unlikely to emerge.
Perhaps the most critical element will be the one-to-one discussions on strategic dimensions of the partnership. Of particular significance will be parleys about the increasing assertiveness of China in the South China Sea, its forays in the Indian Ocean and growing nervousness of its neighbours. The US had recently come out unequivocally in support of India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group membership, rejecting questions raised by China. Peace and stability in Afghanistan and continuing turmoil in West Asia are likely to be discussed.
Ashok Sajjanhar is president, Institute of Global Studies. The views expressed are personal.