US President Obama arrives in India shortly for 3-day visit; nuke deal, climate pact on agenda

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jan 25, 2015 08:57 IST

US President Barack Obama arrives in India on Sunday for a visit aimed at deepening ties and making progress on issues such as climate change, trade and the nuclear deal.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the US President will discuss a range of issues including defense and counter-terrorism at Hyderabad House within hours of Obama’s arrival on Sunday, but officials said efforts to combat climate change will figure prominently in the talks.

“At the front burner in terms of our bilateral relationship, the cooperation on clean energy and climate change is critically important,” said Ben Rhodes, a White House official.

Speculation swirled ahead of the US President’s Republic Day visit about India and the US announcing a breakthrough agreement on climate change along the lines of the US-China deal in 2014 as Washington looks to secure political support for a global climate deal in Paris this year.

New Delhi and Washington have not commented on these reports. But India has been reluctant to follow the US and China in committing to a peak year for emissions on the grounds it needs economic growth to alleviate poverty.

“I think what India will try and do (at the meeting) is quantify the impact of internal initiatives that (have already been taken,” said Ashley Tellis, the dean of DC experts on India-US ties.

India has already announced a multi-fold increase in the target for renewable energy from 20,000 MW (megawatt) to 1,00,000 MW, specially the solar energy component of it.

A stalled nuclear deal is expected to figure prominently at the meetings, and if talks currently under way in London are successful there may even be an announcement. India and the United States signed the landmark civilian nuclear deal in 2008, but differences remain over an Indian nuclear liability law that makes equipment suppliers ultimately responsible for an accident.

The US delegation, which includes US trade representative Michael Froman, will bring up trade, specifically what Washington sees as impediments posed by Indian rules and practices. India too will bring up its priorities.

“We see the United States as a key partner in … development including through possible technology transfer, through possible investment and capital, through sharing of knowledge and skills,” said Syed Akbaruddin, ministry of external affairs spokesperson about the visit earlier this week.

But it’s the symbolism of the visit that will be hard to beat. Tellis told a group of American reporters traveling to India for the visit, “The symbolism is really big.”

It sends a signal to three audiences, he explained. First, from Modi to skeptics on relations with the US in his own party. Second, to the neighborhood. And third, the world.

It’s a great move that “kills many birds with one stone”

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