Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on his fourth US visit and this will probably be his last bilateral meeting with, as Modi put it, his ‘friend Obama’. President Barack Obama moves out of White House in January 2017.
This visit holds significance for both the leaders as both are trying to leave their mark and legacy. The outgoing US president would like to see a definitive culmination to the efforts his administration has put in over the past few years in bringing the two nations closer on a strategic, economic and diplomatic level.
Modi, too, would like to cement ties between the two nations while President Obama is still in office given the uncertainty over who the next President will be.
The three-day tour that began on 7 June started off with a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and was followed up with a visit to the Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial at Arlington Cemetery. This was followed up with a meeting with the US Attorney General Loretta Lynch regarding return of stolen ancient artefacts to India on which the US agreed. Modi met Obama and other senior officials for lunch and discussed a host of bilateral issues that needed to be expedited from both sides.
On 8 June, Modi will be addressing the US Congress to build a better understanding between the two countries at the political level. This will be Modi’s 10th address to an international parliament.
Major takeaways from the visit
At the strategic level
Thanks to US support, India has finally been admitted to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a group of elite nations possessing missile technology and formed to keep a check, through mutual discussions and consensus, on missile proliferation and access to missile technology. The last date for any member country to object to India’s membership to MTCR ran out on 6 June, and now India can freely access the latest in missile technology and also have the option to export it to friendly countries. The membership will also allow India to acquire the much sought after ‘Predator’ drones that US has been successfully deploying in Afghanistan, Iraq and other areas of conflict.
Another very important agreement has been the finalization of the text of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) that both sides have been negotiating on for years. Under LEMOA, both countries will be allowed to use each other’s military facilities and bases. This has wide ramifications for both countries. For the US, it will mean access to Indian naval bases to replenish and re-supply their naval fleet covering the APAC region. Other than naval, Indian Air Force facilities will allow US military aircraft to use Indian bases to refuel and proceed with their military missions.
The relationship will also give the Indian military better reach and ability to carry out missions well beyond its region of influence. Besides, signing LEMOA sends out a strong signal to China, which is accelerating its overall force projection capability far beyond its region. LEMOA is the first step towards a closer strategic relation with the US. The US needs India as a counterbalance to China and is keen to push for closer ties between the two countries.
India has been pushing for an entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for the past several years. While it has US support now, some countries, led by China, had expressed reservation on India’s entry to this exclusive club. India’s sustained diplomatic push, along with PM Modi’s personal diplomacy, has succeeded in overcoming resistance from most countries. Although China still remains reticent about India’s membership, it is still a work in progress.
With India pushing for non-fossil-based energy, access to the latest in nuclear technology is crucial for India’s energy security. While countries like Russia and France have been early movers into India, the US is yet to take the final plunge. India is seeking US technology and investment for setting up 6 AP 1000 nuclear reactors that will be built by Westinghouse and operated in cooperation with Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). Once implemented, it will be one of the largest facilities generating nuclear power in India.
With Climate Change being a matter of serious concern for the global community, India and US have agreed to establish US-India Clean Energy Finance (USICEF), a $20 million initiative with equal contribution from both sides. USICEF aims to raise $400 million to promote clean and renewable energy usage that will reach at least one million households by 2020.
Solar energy is an active area of focus and India seeks both technology and investment from the US. Towards this, both sides have agreed to set up a $40 million US-India Catalytic Solar Finance Program that will assist in setting up of rooftop solar projects. The aim is to raise over a $ 1 billion to help set up small- scale solar power generating units, especially in areas where no electricity is currently available, and also to encourage generation and supply of power to the grid, as a means of raising additional income.
Diplomatic and political outreach
Modi’s address to the US Congress comes at a crucial time when the US is getting ready to usher in a new President, an event that has ramifications for the global community. Narendra Modi has taken upon himself to build India’s image overseas and his high octane visits to foreign countries have begun to yield results. Today, India’s image is a far cry from the pessimism and policy paralysis witnessed during the last years of UPA II regime. The PM has personally been leading the charge on India’s claim to global strategic and economic groupings. Since US is a dominant nation in most groupings, India’s diplomatic and political relations with the US assumes significance. To ensure continuity of several bilateral initiatives between India and the US, the Prime Minister’s address to the US Congress this year is extremely significant as it reaches out directly to the political class within the US.
President Obama will be remembered for his diplomatic breakthrough in resuming relations with Cuba. His second major achievement has been his initiative in getting Iran on a civilian path of nuclear development and back into the global community after years of sanctions. He will also be remembered for his efforts to bring India and the US closer through several initiatives and his personal equation with Narendra Modi. In India, he will always be seen as a true friend. Narendra Modi still has three more years to build on his legacy but this tour to the US will certainly be remembered as a landmark.
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