WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will host Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House on June 7, as the pair try to flesh out nascent trade and security ties. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Modi’s visit would “highlight the deepening of the US-India relationship in key areas since the president’s visit to New Delhi in January 2015.”
“The President looks forward to discussing progress made on our climate change and clean energy partnership, security and defense cooperation, and economic growth priorities.”
This will be Modi’s second White House visit since his Hindu nationalist party won a sweeping victory in 2014 polls. Obama has assiduously courted the Indian premier, cultivating a strategic relationship seen as a counterweight to an increasingly assertive China. It has been a dramatic transformation for a man who in 2005 was denied a visa to the United States on human rights grounds. He had served as chief minister in his home state of Gujarat, when anti-Muslim riots killed hundreds. But turning Obama and Modi’s warm words into concrete agreement has proven difficult. A proposed bilateral investment treaty has languished for years, as New Delhi has taken a tough negotiating line. Talks have been stalled over several issues, including the lack of protection for foreign firms in disputes with the Indian government. “I think there is a reasonable chance we will see the leaders re-commit to engaging in BIT negotiations,” said Rick Rossow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, predicting limited progress. India’s economy is rapidly growing, but poverty remains pervasive and foreign investment has lagged behind China, Brazil and even advanced economies like Ireland. Modi, who faces reelection in 2019, has pegged his political future on a reform agenda and boosting the economy.
Observers say there could be more progress on security and energy cooperation. A series of technical steps could allow the men to announce US nuclear companies entering the potentially lucrative Indian market. In 2005, then-president George W. Bush lifted a three decade long moratorium on nuclear cooperation with India, introduced after the country developed a nuclear bomb. The issue had been a major hurdle to relations between two of the world’s largest democracies. Modi has made nuclear energy a priority, to offset horrendous levels of air pollution that is worsened by the dominance of coal-fired power plants and reduce dependence on foreign gas and oil. A series of military agreements linked to support and logistics could also be signed by the two leaders and could pave the way for deeper military cooperation. Many of the agreements have been stalled for years by India’s concerns about weakening the ability to act alone militarily. Modi will also address a joint session of Congress on June 8.
Modi was invited to address the US Congress by Republican speaker Paul Ryan, who called the US-Indian relationship “a pillar of stability in a very, very important region.”