Barack Obama touched down in India on Sunday to a bear hug of a welcome from Narendra Modi, and hours later the leaders announced a big step forward in a nuclear deal that has become the cornerstone of ties between the world’s biggest democracies.
The dramatic progress in the stalled six-year-old civilian nuclear agreement ensured that a day replete with symbolism also packed in plenty of substance: in addition, the two sides operationalised joint production of key defence equipment, spoke of a new vision for the Asia Pacific, where rival China is flexing its muscles, strengthened cooperation in clean energy and pledged to fight terror.
The United States also offered its much-needed support to India’s membership of four global exporter groups that deal in the most sensitive weapons technology. [ Read full text of joint statement (courtesy: MEA website)]
“We have reached breakthrough understandings on two issues that were holding up our ability to fully implement the civil nuclear agreement... And we hope to begin commercial trade soon,” Obama told a packed news conference at Hyderabad House near Delhi’s iconic India Gate. Sources said that the two sides had negotiated late into the previous night to hammer out a deal.
The Americans have given up their demand to track what happens to the nuclear fuel that they supply to India; they have also agreed to New Delhi’s proposal of setting up a Rs. 1,500-crore “insurance pool” that will indemnify US suppliers. American companies have stayed away from the Indian nuclear sector because of Indian laws that hold suppliers, not just the operator, liable if an accident occurs.
At stake is an $85-billion programme to increase nuclear capacity to 63,000 MW from 4,780 MW, which could form a key part of Modi’s pet Make in India drive and offer megabucks in contracts to US companies.
Shortly before the announcement, Obama and Modi went for a walk in the gardens of Hyderabad House. The Indian Prime Minister, who as a child worked at a station tea stall, poured tea for the US President.
Later, at a state banquet in his honour, Obama — his country’s first black president — touched on the similarities between his life and Modi’s.
“People say my life story can only happen in America. I would say, Mr Prime Minister, your life story can only happen in India,” he said to applause from the near 250 guests gathered at a glittering presidential palace.
The day had begun with similar warmth. Modi broke with protocol by welcoming Obama at the airport, waiting on the tarmac as the door of Air Force One opened just before 10am and Barack and Michelle Obama emerged. The two leaders exchanged a friendly hug, setting the tone for the day.
Among the other agreements, India and the US decided to ratchet up counter-terrorism cooperation and capabilities. Without naming Pakistan, Modi said, “There should be no distinction between terrorist groups. Every country must fulfil its commitments to eliminate terrorist safe havens and bring terrorists to justice.”
The two sides reaffirmed the need for joint and concerted efforts to disrupt entities such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, D Company and the Haqqani Network. They also reiterated their call for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice.
Obama said he and Modi also talked about a new vision for the Asia-Pacific. This comes at a time when Beijing’s aggressive posturing in the resource-rich South China Sea region has shifted global attention to the area. [ Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region: Full text (courtesy: MEA website)]
In the joint statement, the two sides said, “We affirm the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.”
The two countries committed to continue to work towards India’s phased entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Australia Group. Obama reaffirmed Washington’s position that India met MTCR requirements and was ready for NSG membership.
India and the US also cemented their strategic partnership, with a Declaration of Friendship on the guiding principles of “chalein saath saath ( forward together we go)” and “sanjha prayaas, sabka vikaas (shared effort, progress for all)”. [ Declaration of Friendship full text (courtesy: MEA website)]