Trade, energy and global security on discussion agenda
NEW DELHI // Narendra Modi will become the fifth Indian prime minister to address the US congress on Wednesday as part of a five-nation tour that begins today.
He will also hold talks on trade, energy and global security with president Barack Obama, whose eight-year term ends in January.
The two men struck up a strong relationship after Mr Modi was elected in May 2014 and have met six times since then – an unusually high tally for a US president and leader whose country is not a formal ally.
This relationship is all the more extraordinary given that Mr Modi was banned from the US for nearly a decade because of his failure to stop anti-Muslim riots that killed 1,000 people in Gujarat in 2002 while he was chief minister of the state.
Mr Modi will spend two days in the United States after visiting Afghanistan, Qatar and Switzerland.
From the US, he will travel to Mexico before returning to India on Thursday.
“A lot of progress has been made in the two terms of president Obama,” Arun K Singh, India’s ambassador to the US, said on Wednesday. “To celebrate that, see where we are, and then launch it into the new administration – that has been the thrust and effort related to this visit.”
Mr Modi will arrive in Washington on Monday and meet Mr Obama the following day.
On Tuesday evening, he will meet a delegation of American business leaders, including Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon.com, with trade and investment in India on the agenda.
Following Mr Modi’s address to a joint session of congress on Wednesday morning, considered a rare honour, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the house of representatives, will chair a lunch for the Indian leader. The prime minister will then attend a reception hosted by the house and senate foreign relations committees.
Part of Mr Obama’s “unfinished agenda for India” was to involve New Delhi in supporting the US in the Asia Pacific, said T P Sreenivasan, a retired Indian diplomat.
China’s growing military domination of the South China Sea has been countered by the US navy, and Mr Obama’s government has warned Beijing not to “elbow aside” other countries in its disputes over the region’s islands.
“Forty per cent of India’s trade goes through” the sea, said Ashok Sajjanhar, director of the Institute of Global Studies, a think tank based in Gurgaon. “We’ve articulated our position on freedom of navigation, maritime security, and international law, and these are the same positions the US is taking.”
Mr Sajjanhar also said Washington and New Delhi would try to strengthen their defence partnership during Mr Modi’s visit.
The US is India’s largest supplier of defence equipment, with New Delhi awaiting delivery of orders worth $14 billion (Dh51.4bn).
Two weeks ago, the house of representatives approved legislation to raise defence ties with India to the level of the US’s Nato allies in terms of defence procurement and cooperation.
Mr Modi’s delegation is also expected to use the visit to advance India’s civilian nuclear agreement with the US. The deal was signed 11 years ago but has since been mired in disagreements over who will bear liability in the event of accidents.