WASHINGTON: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for years barred from visiting the United States, will meet President Barack Obama in two days of eagerly awaited White House talks at the end of the month.
The meetings, on September 29 and 30, will take place on Modi’s first visit to Washington since he led his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a crushing victory in May’s elections.
Modi was told in 2005 by the administration of president George W. Bush that he would be refused a visa to visit the United States, after being accused of not intervening to stop riots by Hindu extremists against minority Muslims when he was chief minister of Gujarat state.
He has denied doing anything wrong during the 2002 riots, which caught the eye of Washington following the passage of a law intended to outlaw violators of religious freedom.
When it became clear last year that Modi was positioned to become India’s next prime minister, the current White House, which sees India as a key pivot in its policy of rebalancing diplomatic power towards Asia, signaled that Modi would have no problem setting foot on US soil.
“The two leaders will discuss a range of issues of mutual interest in order to expand and deepen the US-India strategic partnership,” said a White House statement.
“They will discuss ways to accelerate economic growth, bolster security cooperation, and collaborate in activities that bring long-term benefits to both countries and the world.
Obama and Modi will also discuss regional issues, including in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
“The president looks forward to working with the prime minister to fulfill the promise of the US-India strategic partnership for the benefit of both our citizens and the world.”
Washington has wasted no time in trying to court Modi, who was seen as less keen to engage the United States than his predecessor Manmohan Singh, a bookish academic who had a close relationship with Obama.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have already traveled to India to meet the new prime minister.
It is unusual for a foreign leader, especially one who is not making a state visit, to go to the White House on two separate days.
“The fact that there will be interactions over two days is a signal of the importance we place on the US-India relationship,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
Though Washington sees rising India as a democratic counterweight to the region’s other emerging power, China, things have not gone completely smoothly.
Kerry rebuked Modi during his visit over India’s refusal to ratify an important WTO trade deal on streamlining customs procedures and boosting global commerce.
India argued that the pact’s market opening requirements could prejudice its efforts to lift up its poorest citizens.
The United States has tried to restore the warmth in relations with India, after a series of spats, including a crisis in December when US authorities arrested an Indian diplomat in New York for allegedly mistreating her housekeeper, infuriating New Delhi.
Obama hosted Singh for his first state dinner as US president in 2009. He then traveled to India the following year.