Kerry tests waters with Premier Modi

 02 Aug 2014 - 0:00

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (second right) greets US Secretary of State John Kerry in the presence of US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker (left) and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at the Prime Minister’s residence in New Delhi yesterday.


New Delhi: US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday and conveyed that President Barack Obama attaches great priority to relations with India and looks forward to a productive and fruitful summit in September in Washington.
Kerry, along with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, held an hour-long meeting with Modi at the latter’s 7, Race Course Road official residence. The meeting was held a day after he met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for the 5th India-US Strategic Dialogue
Both secretaries briefed Modi on the dialogue and said Obama attached great priority to relations with India for bilateral cooperation and global partnership, and looks forward to a productive and fruitful Summit in September in Washington to set an ambitious new agenda to chart a new course in the relationship, said an official statement.
Modi said there was broad convergence of views and interests between both countries.
He outlined his vision for India and the partnership between the world’s two largest democracies in addressing global challenges, promoting peace and stability in the world and supporting India’s economic transformation.
Modi also highlighted opportunities for partnership in trade, investment, clean energy, innovation, education, skill development, agro-processing, youth empowerment, among others, the statement said.
He stressed the need for developed countries to understand challenges of poverty in developing countries and their governments’ responsibilities in addressing them at international fora.
He discussed the regional situation, including India’s engagement in the Asia Pacific region; the commitment to bring South Asia together in a united effort to promote regional economic development; India’s commitment to continue support to Afghanistan; and, the need to confront terrorism on the principles of “zero tolerance” for terrorism and eschewing a selective approach to terrorism.
Modi thanked Kerry and Pritzker for visiting India, although it was the US turn to host the dialogue; conveyed his appreciation for Obama’s thoughtful and detailed letter; and, asked both sides to prepare for concrete outcomes during the summit to take the relationship to a new level, on the basis of vision, strategy and action plan, the statement said.
Kerry, who held talks with senior Indian officials on Thursday, voiced optimism about expanding cooperation after Modi’s right-wing government won a decisive electoral mandate.
“We want to try to really take the relationship to a new place,” Kerry said ahead of the meeting.
“People in India love to debate; they love to engage in the tug of public discourse. And so it’s harder sometimes to get things done, but we have that in common, more so than many other countries with whom we deal in the region and to the east of here.”
The US has little relationship with Modi, a Hindu nationalist who was refused a US visa in 2005 over allegations that he turned a blind eye to anti-Muslim riots as leader of the western state of Gujarat.
The US caught up with other Western nations during the election campaign, sending its ambassador to meet Modi who since taking office has shown no visible signs of holding a grudge over his past treatment.
But US officials, who value frank and free-wheeling relationships with foreign leaders, are unsure what to expect from Modi who is known for his austere, solitary lifestyle and is not believed to be at ease in English.
Modi, who as a young man wandered the Himalayas, is seen as a very different character from his predecessor Manmohan Singh, a bookish Oxford-educated economist with whom President Barack Obama had found a kinship. Kerry, the polyglot son of a diplomat, has nurtured personal relationships as he pursues key goals, including seeking peace in the Middle East.
The US has sought to put relations with India on firmer ground after the Modi visa row and a crisis in December when US authorities arrested an Indian diplomat for allegedly mistreating her servant, infuriating New Delhi. US officials, however, have signalled that they do not want to create a new rift by renewing past concerns about Modi’s track record on minority rights.
Kerry treaded lightly on the issue, saying that the two democracies shared the belief that “every citizen, no matter their background, no matter their beliefs, can make their full contribution”.
“From women’s rights to minority rights, there is room to go further for both of us,” he added.