Ahead of Modi-Obama meet, India and US seek to strengthen ties2 min read . Updated: 10 Jun 2014, 11:12 PM IST
Wide range of talks planned leading up to Narendra Modi's meeting with Barack Obama in September
New Delhi: India and the US are looking to reset ties with governments on both sides keen to arrest a recent downslide in relations marked by lethargy and tension after the detention of an Indian diplomat in New York in December, people close to the development said on Tuesday.
On the cards are a wide range of dialogues to intensify engagement—the India-US-Japan trilateral talks and discussions between the commerce and defence departments of the two countries besides the India-US strategic dialogue between Secretary of State John Kerry and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. All these are expected to lead up to a meeting between India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama in September when the former travels to the US for the United Nations General Assembly.
Efforts to chart a new course in relations began on 16 May, the day Modi was declared prime minister elect with Obama putting a call through to him. Kerry followed it up with a telephone call to Swaraj on 29 May. According to one of the people cited above, the “clear desire of the two sides to move forward to begin engagement quickly was made explicit."
The planned intensive interaction is based on a “very quick outreach by the Americans to the new government and the government’s response has been equally forthright and quick in saying that we want to move the relationship forward," the person said.
Ties between India and the US—deemed the world’s largest and oldest democracies— had turned frosty over several issues, including alleged mistreatment of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade who was detained over alleged visa fraud, the lack of economic reforms in India, and complaints of protectionism by both. Bilateral trade in goods is expected to cross $65 billion in 2013-14, according to the ministry of external affairs.
“Moving forward on trade and investment is critical to this relationship. We have long said this was one of the important pillars of this relationship," the person cited above said. “Much of this will wait till we have clear policy lines laid out by the budget," said the person referring to India’s annual budget expected to be unveiled by the new government next month.
Analysts say the chill in ties began with the general disappointment on both sides coinciding with the second terms of President Obama, re-elected in 2012 and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, which was re-elected for a second five year term in 2009.
In the case of Modi, the US had denied him a visa to visit in 2005—due to allegations that he failed to act to stop the 2002 Gujarat riots, when he was chief minister of Gujarat. The visa bar was in place till 16 May—the day Modi became prime minister elect.
“I think it was a serious mistake on the part of the last (Bush) administration to do that (deny Modi a visa) and the current (Obama) administration to keep it in place... all the way till the Indian elections," said Robert Blackwill, former US ambassador to India. He was referring to the recently concluded Indian general polls that swept Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party to power.
Separately, addressing a meeting organized by the Ananta Aspen Centre, a New Delhi-based think tank, Blackwill advised India and the US “re-orient foreign policy to succeed in an era crucially defined by economic power projection."