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HindustanTimes Thu,02 Oct 2014

India to host annual talks with US again

Yashwant Raj and Jayanth Jacob, Hindustan Times  Washington/New Delhi, July 04, 2014
First Published: 08:04 IST(4/7/2014) | Last Updated: 09:57 IST(4/7/2014)

India and the United States have agreed to break from tradition and let New Delhi host their annual strategic dialogue for the second year running at the end of this month.

It would offer senior US officials, such as secretary of state John Kerry, a chance to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his senior ministers for the first time.

Ordinarily, it would have been Washington DC's turn to host this round of the dialogue, which has been held alternatively in India and the US since it started in 2009.

The dialogue allows the two countries to discuss a range of issues from education, counter-terrorism, bilateral and regional issues, space, science and defence at one forum.

New Delhi hosted it last summer, when Kerry travelled to India. It was Sushma Swaraj's turn to make the trip to DC this time - which could have been her first visit to the US as minister of external affairs.

But the US wanted India to hold it again so that Kerry could meet Modi, which he has said he has wanted to, to hand over President Barack Obama's invitation, among other things.

At a recent briefing for Indian reporters in the US, assistant secretary of state Nisha Biswal, who like the PM is from Gujarat, had indicated the US wanted it.

"We are open, we are very open" to it, she had said.

India didn't think much of the idea then when it was first broached. But they grew to like it, for several reasons.

"Two big US visits one after the other seemed too much," said a source.

The second big visit, Prime Minister Modi's at the end of September for the United Nation General Assembly session and meeting with President Obama, would be really big in every way, scope and scale.

So, the reasoning went in New Delhi, let's host the dialogue.

"There was never a formal US request for it," a source stressed, adding, "but that's how it turned out."

The logistics are being worked out now, before a formal announcement.

The US has been keen to make it up to Prime Minister Modi for what Republican senator John McCain has described as “recent history" and others have plainly called a "slight".

Read: US needs to undo recent history with Modi, says Senator McCain

They were referring to the Bush administration's denial to Modi, who was at the time the chief minister of Gujarat, a visa to visit the US in 2005 for not doing enough to stop the 2002 riots in his state.

A tourist/business visa that he already held was also cancelled.

Modi never applied for a US visa again — addressing a growing army of his supporters in America remotely through live video links.

When the US began warming up to Modi, he didn't look eager to reciprocate. He made the then US ambassador Nancy Powell wait almost a month before he met her in Gujarat in 2013.

That didn't go unnoticed in the US.

Also read: PM Modi accepts Barack Obama's invitation to US


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