US lawmakers seek reassurances from Modi on India-US ties

20 Apr 2016


US lawmakers seeking reassurances on the rising tide of India-US relations want Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself to address a joint session of Congress during his planned visit to Washington in June.

The request was made out by leaders of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in a letter to House speaker Paul Ryan.

"Given the depth of our relationship with India across a range of areas - defence, humanitarian and disaster relief, space cooperation, conservation and innovation - we believe this is an ideal opportunity for the Congress to hear directly from the prime minister," committee chairman Ed Royce (Republican) and ranking member of the committee Eliot Engel (Democrat), stated in the letter.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting the US for a bilateral summit with President Barack Obama in June, most likely on 7th and 8th of June. The agenda is still being worked out, but his itinerary will, in all likelihood, include an address to the joint session of Congress.

The invitation to Modi would be a sharp turnaround for the US administration that once barred him from the United States over the riots in Gujarat in which several Muslims were killed during his term as chief minister of the state.

The administration of President George W Bush denied Modi a visa in 2005 under a 1998 US law that barred entry to foreigners who have committed "particularly severe violations of religious freedom."

Modi denied any wrongdoing. India's Supreme Court also ruled in 2010 he had no case to answer.

When Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power in the 2014 general elections, there still were questions of his eligibility for a US visa. But, President Barack Obama dismissed the issue by inviting him to the White House when he called to congratulate him on his victory.

Things have changed a lot since and Modi is America's best friend now.

A spokeswoman for Speaker Ryan said she had no announcement at this time about whether the House would extend an invitation.

While there is no finality on the dates or the agenda, reports quoting an official of the US state department said the two leaders could discuss ocean economy, space cooperation, cyber security and nuclear commerce.

Modi may also visit the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during his visit and may announce some new initiatives during the visit.

Also, a commercial agreement between Westinghouse Electric and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd to build six nuclear reactors in Gujarat could also be finalised during the PM's visit.

US officials say some scheduling details are yet to be worked out as several senior officials would be travelling to China for the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue in the first week of June.

Modi, on his part, is expected to raise the issue of continuous supply of US weapons to Pakistan, including the recent decision to give it eight F 16 fighter jets.

India and U.S are also locked in some disputes at the WTO, including on solar panel imports (See: India to appeal WTO's adverse ruling on solar PPAs) and US visa fees.

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