Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accepted an invitation from US President Barack Obama to have bilateral discussions in Washington in September, potentially opening a new chapter in a sometimes edgy relationship between the world’s two biggest democracies.
Government sources in Delhi said that the United States has offered September 30 as the date for the meeting, and the Indian side has asked for it to be advanced to September 26, around the time of Modi’s maiden address at the United Nations General Assembly.
S Jaishankar, the Indian ambassador to the United States, is flying to New Delhi on June 8 for consultations with South Block and the prime minister’s office (PMO), and will brief Modi on the relationship and how to take it forward.
The meeting between Modi and Obama will mean that the US view on the Indian PM has come full circle from the time it imposed a visa ban on him in 2005 in connection with the Gujarat riots three years earlier. The process of rapprochement started in February, when its recently retired ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, went to Ahmedabad to meet Modi, then a PM candidate.
It also comes after an especially difficult period in the relationship, sparked by the arrest and humiliation of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York over allegations of visa fraud, and a particularly sharp retaliation by the Indian side.
But there could be a meeting of minds on economic ties: Modi has spoken often of the need to make India’s diplomacy trade-focused, and wants big ticket investments from mega corporations like GE, IBM and Microsoft.
The US companies, while broadly enthusiastic about India, have turned skittish of late due to stalled economic reforms, slow growth, and issues over tax, intellectual property and preferential market access.
With Modi’s entry into the PMO, the Indian embassy in Washington has started serious diplomatic efforts to lure investment. For their part, some US defence contractors are keen to sell military hardware to the world’s biggest arms importer.
“All pending bilateral issues will be discussed in the one-day meeting as Modi is keen to push the relationship forward for its economic returns for India,” said a senior South Block official.
Substantive sticking points are the Indian nuclear liability law that makes it difficult for US firms to build nuclear reactors in India, and the waning US support for India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regimes and other export regimes.
Apart from that, Modi is understood to be concerned about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its impact on Jammu and Kashmir.