Syria shadow over Modi's US visit?

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Sep 26, 2014 01:00 IST

Launching the Make In India initiative was among the last things Prime Minister Narendra Modi did before boarding a flight for the United States Thursday evening.

President Barack Obama’s last actions in past 24 hours included a call to nations to join a broader fight against ISIS and violent extremism describing it as a threat to world peace.

And his forces continued to pound ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria, in a steadily escalating military engagement in a region that he believed he had left behind in 2011.

Are they likely to talk past each other, thus, when they meet at th White House first over dinner on September 29, and then the next morning for delegation-level talks?

Unlikely, said Milan Vaishnav of Carnegie. “I think the distraction on America’s side, if it comes, is likely to impact the follow-up to the visit rather than the visit itself.”

But, he added, there is every indication that everyone in the administration from the president on down “is geared up to make this summit a success”.

Lisa Curtis of Heritage Foundation argued that there is a danger of the visit being overshadowed by the airstrikes in Syria and other international challenges facing the US.

“The White House will have to make a concerted effort to prevent that,” Curtis said, adding, “they shouldn’t miss this opportunity to reboot the relationship.”

Past some years have seen the relationship sink from the heady high of the nuclear deal to the disappointment, in the US, at losing the MMRCA deal, to the Khobragade row.

Rick Rossow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies described the relationship “as better than it was 20 years ago, worse than 9 years ago (the nuclear deal).”

And that’s the challenge before the two leaders.

Prime Minister Modi arrives here Friday evening to start a four-day tour of the US — the first, and the longer, leg will be in New York, for the UN general assembly.

The high-point of the New York stay is likely to be a public reception hosted for him by the Indian American community at Madison Square Garden, an iconic Manhattan venue.

Modi reaches DC on September 29, and has his first meeting with Obama the same evening over dinner at the White House. Will they connect, establish a rapport?

They will be watched closely.

Modi’s engagements with businesses, and there is a distinctly business tone to the visit, in both New York and Washington DC will also be monitored closely.

As the prime minister re-sells India as a safe, profitable and, importantly, a predictable investment destination, US officials and businesses will be listening intently.

US business, specially pharmaceutical firms, have had eade issues with India, and have lobbied the administration and Capitol Hill hard to put pressure on New Delhi.

A trade body spearheading this effort, the Alliance for Free Trade with India, wrote a letter to Obama on Thursday asking him press Modi on these issues when they meet.

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