US gets down to do business with Modi, says waiting to hear from his govt

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: May 23, 2014 10:30 IST

The United States on Thursday said it was ready for high-level interactions with prime minister-elect Narendra Modi, but will wait to hear from his government on the logistics.

The US does not want to "impose an architecture or a time-table" on the new government.

"We will be waiting to hear from them," said US assistant secretary of state Nisha Desai Biswal.

The US state department's senior-most official for India, and South and Central Asia - who was born in Gujarat - was speaking to reporters working for Indian news organisations.

Her boss, secretary of state John Kerry, is keen to visit India "soon" to meet Modi and re-extend President Barack Obama’s invitation to him to visit the US.

The annual strategic dialogue between the two countries, held alternately in their respective capitals, could have afforded Kerry that chance if the dialogue was happening in Delhi.

It's Washington's turn to host it this year.

But the US is open to considering changes in the timetable and structure of the dialogue to facilitate that meeting, if that was the earliest interaction possible with Modi.

"There are a lot of different possibilities that can be discussed," Biswal said when asked whether the US would like the dialogue to be hosted by Delhi.

She added that it's best for her to wait until her counterparts were in place in India.

But, she stressed, "we are open, we are very open".

Not in the least to counter the perception that the US was too late to end its boycott of Modi — some have suggested the visa ban on him should have gone a long time ago.

Since the end of elections in India, the US has tried — through tweets, statements and a phone call from Obama to the PM-designate — to expunge its anti-Modi record.

Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat, was denied a diplomatic official visa in 2005 over his alleged failure to stop the 2002 riots in his state. The US had also cancelled his tourist visa.

Stung, the chief minister never applied for a visa again.

As prime minister, Modi will require a different category of visa — A-1 — which he should have no trouble getting with an outstanding invitation from the US president.

But the US is nervous about Modi.

And, it's not just the White House.

A number of US lawmakers, therefore, had themselves paraded at an event on Capitol Hill on Thursday in support of the new government.

Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the powerful House foreign relations committee, recalled meeting Modi after the 2002 earthquake and being impressed by his response.

The US, with all of its different wings, wants to work with Modi and is willing to wait for his government to get through the transitional phase before engaging with it vigorously.

But don't expect it go easy on recent trade tensions.

Those "vexing" issues will continue, Biswal said, adding, the US has its worst such problems with Canada and EU, its closest allies.

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