Stage set for Modi-Obama summit in White House


modi-obama1It’s official. The defining partnership of the 21st century is set to get a fresh sparkle when the White House hosts India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his maiden summit with US President Obama in Washington September 30.

Prime Minister Modi will travel to Washington September 29, after a clutch of back-to-back meetings in New York, which includes his maiden address to the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

President Obama will host a private dinner for the Indian leader at the White House on September 29, to which only seniormost figures of his Cabinet will be invited. On September 30, the two leaders will hold full-spectrum talks to reinvigorate the India-US relationship and set fresh benchmarks for fructifying the full potential of this critical strategic partnership. This will be followed by a lunch hosted for Prime Minister Modi by US Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department on September 30.

In a formal White House announcement on September 8, Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, said: “President Obama looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to the White House on September 29-30, 2014.”

“They will also focus on regional issues, including current developments in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, where India and the United States can work together with partners towards a positive outcome,” added Earnest.

According to Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson of the National Security Council, the two- day interaction between the two leaders suggests that Washington prioritises its relations with the new administration in Delhi.

Since the new Indian government took office in May, Obama has signalled enthusiasm for building bridges with the country’s new prime minister and rejuvenating the India-US relations which languished in the last few months of the previous Manmohan Singh government.

In an unusual gesture, Obama sent four senior figures of his administration to India, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Deputy Secretary William Burns.

This sudden show of warmth has been welcomed by a pragmatic Modi, who otherwise should have reasons to nurse bitterness as he was denied a visa by Washington for nearly a decade for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The world’s two largest democracies are looking to pack a new burst of energy in their evolving relationship that occasionally get mired in differences of perception on some issues. But this agreement to disagree is seen as a sign of growing confidence in the future of the relationship.

In 2010, President Obama famously declared that the India-US partnership “will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”

In the Modi-Obama talks, the focus will be on raising the bar for the economic relationship that has underperformed due to a host of reasons. Bilateral trade is estimated to be just over 100 billion USD – considered way below potential. US Vice-President Biden has declared that the two countries could multiply bilateral trade five times to $500 billion in the not too distant future.

The US is the fifth largest source of foreign direct investment into India, with cumulative FDI inflows of about $ 11.92 billion from April 2000 to March 2014. While Indian companies have invested over US $ 17 billion in the US over the last few years.