Fasting Modi meets Obama at White House

Fasting Modi meets Obama at White House


Modi met Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other key US officials at the White House for a private dinner, ahead of formal talks in the Oval Office on Tuesday, September 30


WASHINGTON DC, USA – US President Barack Obama took a first chance to size up Narendra Modi Monday, September 29, as the new Indian Prime Minister, an intriguing novice on the world stage, brought a tour which wowed New York to the White House.

Modi met Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other key US officials at the White House for a private dinner, ahead of formal talks in the Oval Office on Tuesday, September 30.

Washington hopes that the visit, following the landslide election victory of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in May, will turn a page in relations with New Delhi which are deeply valued here but have been under strain in recent years.

Modi and Obama sat down under a gilded chandelier in the antique-festooned Blue Room of the White House, in a group of 20 officials of both sides, also including Secretary of State John Kerry and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Despite the energy-sapping itinerary of high level summits and jet travel, Modi was expected to take only tea and lemonade as he maintains a 9 day religious fast that he observes every year.

Both nations issued a joint “vision statement” promising that their “strategic partnership” would work to combat terror threats, respond to humanitarian disasters, prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and to “mitigate” the impact of climate change.

Modi warmed up for the White House visit by basking in a rock star welcome in New York in which he spoke to thousands of members of the Indian diaspora at the Madison Square Garden sports arena and addressed the United Nations.

Indian American activists have pressed for years to rehabilitate the image of Modi, who was denied a visa to the United States in 2005 on human rights grounds over anti-Muslim riots in his home state of Gujarat.

Modi denies wrongdoing and was never charged over the violence that killed more than 1,000 people.

Cabinet level visits

Since he took office, Washington has made strenuous efforts to court the new Indian leader – sending several cabinet level delegations to New Delhi and pushing for an early visit to the United States by the new premier.

“This is a historic and pivotal moment in the history between our two great democratic nations,” said a senior US official.

As he arrived in the United States on Friday, September 26, Modi said in an article in the Wall Street Journal that “India and the US have a fundamental stake in each other’s success.”

“The complementary strengths of India and the US can be used for inclusive and broad-based global development to transform lives across the world.”

The White House took that as a sign that despite some nettlesome differences, notably over trade, Modi was committed to a relationship that US officials see as a fulcrum of Obama’s policy of rebalancing US foreign policy towards Asia.

“What we are hearing from our Indian counterparts and what gives us tremendous excitement and confidence in the direction that we’re moving is a desire to work across all areas of endeavor,” another official said, predicting common ground on bilateral issues and regional and global security.

US officials have welcomed Modi’s vows to slash red tape confining India’s economy and his overtures to business leaders who have long chafed at restrictions on foreign investment in the country.

Trade woes

But Washington is concerned about New Delhi’s recent move to block a key World Trade Organization pact that would streamline customs procedures and boost global commerce.

Modi said Monday he was in favor of unfettered trade – but said commerce must be done in such a way that enhances India’s capacity to feed its most impoverished citizens and to protect its emerging middle class.

He said that despite some differences with Washington, the wider relationship could still improve.

“It is not necessary we should have comfort in everything, even between a husband and wife, there is never 100 percent comfort,” Modi joked at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said the two sides would also discuss the future of Afghanistan and the global fight against militant groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Modi issued a public warning to the United States Monday not to repeat its “mistake” in leaving Iraq by pulling out of Afghanistan too soon.

“Because after such a rapid withdrawal in Iraq, (and) what happened there, the withdrawal process in Afghanistan should be very slow.

Both sides are eager to repair the damage inflicted by a recent series of spats, including a crisis last December when US authorities arrested and then strip-searched an Indian diplomat in New York for allegedly mistreating her housekeeper.

US officials have insisted that a lawsuit leveled against Modi by a human rights group in New York over the Gujarat massacre will not detract from the visit. As a foreign head of government Modi enjoys diplomatic immunity. –

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