Biden praises 'defining relationship' with India as Modi visits US

Indian Prime Minister to address the US Congress and attend an official state dinner

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US President Joe Biden on Thursday hailed a "defining partnership" with India as he welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House for a state visit that will seal major defence and technology deals, as Washington hopes to help expand New Delhi's role as a counterweight to China.

Mr Modi arrived at a rain-soaked White House and was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of Indian Americans, who periodically burst out in chants of “Modi! Modi! Modi!”

"I have long believed that the relationship between the US and India will be one of the most defining relationships of the 21st century," Mr Biden said as he praised the impacts that Indian Americans, including Vice President Kamala Harris, have had on the US.

Mr Modi said his visit had ushered the India-US relationship into a new chapter of closer co-operation.

"We have decided to resolve long pending trade related issues and make a new beginning," he said at a press conference alongside Mr Biden.

But Mr Modi's visit has also stirred controversy in the US, where several politicians said they planned to boycott Mr Modi's address to Congress on Thursday afternoon over the growing repression of Muslims and other minorities in India, as well as other human rights offences, including the suppression of dissent.

Progressive Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the honour of speaking to Congress should not be extended to anyone “whom our own State Department has concluded are engaged in systematic human rights abuses of religious minorities and caste-oppressed communities”.

When pressed by reporters over his party's treatment of minorities, Mr Modi pushed back.

"There is absolutely no space for discrimination," he said.

"In India's democratic values, there's absolutely no discrimination, neither on the basis of caste, creed or age or any kind of geographic location."

Biden administration officials say honouring Mr Modi, the leader of the conservative Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, is vital. The US wants to woo India away from its ties to Russia that include crude oil purchases that Moscow uses to help fund its war machine in Ukraine.

Washington also sees New Delhi as a vital partner in countering China's expanding influence across the Indo-Pacific region.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Mr Biden will raise his concerns but will avoid lecturing Mr Modi during their formal talks.

“The question of where politics and the question of democratic institutions go in India is going to be determined within India by Indians. It’s not going to be determined by the United States,” Mr Sullivan said.

“So what we can do is our part, and our part is to speak out on behalf of universal values.”

India's Narendra Modi arrives at the White House for official visit

India's Narendra Modi arrives at the White House for official visit

Among the major announcements to be made on Thursday is an agreement that will allow US-based General Electric to join forces with India-based Hindustan Aeronautics to produce jet engines for Indian aircraft and the sale of US-made armed MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones, according to senior Biden administration officials.

“The visit will strengthen our two countries' shared commitment to a free, open, prosperous and secure Indo-Pacific and our shared resolve to elevate our strategic technology partnership, including in defence, clean energy and space,” a senior US official told reporters on a call.

Mr Modi arrived in Washington on Wednesday, visiting UN headquarters in New York, where he participated in a yoga session to mark the International Day of Yoga.

He and US first lady Jill Biden later visited the National Science Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, for an event highlighting workforce training programmes.

The formal White House reception for Mr Modi is taking place on Thursday evening, with a vegetarian state dinner.

Sachinchit Langia, 46, flew in from Houston, Texas to attend the festivities at White House.

Mr Langia, who works in finance, praised Mr Modi for making India “strong" and added that he "has done amazing work for the country".

But outside the White House, another group of Indian Americans disagreed, with a small contingent of Sikhs from across the US protesting against the Modi visit.

“He's a known human rights violator,” Jagjeet Singh, who flew in from San Jose, California, told The National.

The visit comes as the Biden administration has grown increasingly frustrated with India's stance on the Ukraine war.

“We will engage actively India on issues associated with Russia and Ukraine,” a US official said, stressing that the purpose of the visit was to strengthen ties between the two countries.

“We are hosting India for an official state visit to put our co-operation on an inexorable trajectory.

“We're seeking escape velocity as we support India's emergence as a great power that will be central to ensuring US interests and the interests of our partners in the coming decades.”

Mr Modi said his country wanted to find a solution to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

”We are completely ready to contribute in any way we can to restore peace," he said.

Updated: June 23, 2023, 6:10 AM