US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in India on Monday for a four-day visit designed to revive flagging diplomatic ties and fire up bilateral trade.
Biden, the first US vice president to visit India in three decades, will meet senior leaders including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Tuesday before heading to the financial hub Mumbai to deliver a keynote speech on the economy.
Biden, accompanied by his wife Jill, landed in New Delhi shortly after 5pm, and immediately visited a museum in the capital dedicated to independence hero Mahatma Gandhi.
In an interview published in the Times of India newspaper before his arrival, Biden said the world’s two biggest democracies had a “tremendous capability to work together” but should be doing more.
He also emphasised that he wanted to see an acceleration in bilateral trade, which he said was on track to meet US$100 billion this year.
“The United States has welcomed India’s emergence and both nations have profited from it,” the vice president said.
“India’s rise as a global economic power is one of the most powerful stories of the 21st century.”
The announcement of Biden’s visit was made during a trip to India last month by Secretary of State John Kerry, who sought to allay Indian fears about the aftermath of next year’s withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
India, which has spent more than two billion dollars of aid in Afghanistan, fears a possible return to power by the Taliban, hardline Islamists who were strong allies of Pakistan before being toppled in 2001.
Talks between the US and the Taliban were due to start last month after the Islamists opened an office in Doha, but they collapsed before even getting off the ground.
In his meeting with Indian leaders, Biden is expected to reiterate that the US will not support any peace process involving the Taliban unless they renounce violence.
“If the Taliban are to have any role in Afghanistan’s political future, they will need to break ties with al-Qaeda, stop supporting violence and accept the Afghan constitution as part of the outcomes of any negotiated peace settlement,” he told the Times of India.
“We strongly support the role India has played in Afghanistan, leveraging its economic strength to improve Afghanistan’s economy ... in projects that will help to ensure our common goal of a stable and prosperous future for the Afghan people,” he added.
Biden will fly on Wednesday to Mumbai where he is expected to hold a roundtable with business leaders and press for stronger intellectual property protection.
While trade has grown in recent years, there is still widespread frustration among US business leaders over what they see as unfair trading practices.
Among the points of contention is India’s championing of generic drugs – which advocates say save lives in poor nations – despite protests from Western drug firms.
India in turn has been alarmed by proposals in the US Congress to curb visas for high-tech workers.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma were both in Washington last week to pitch for investment and discuss India’s readiness to open talks on a bilateral investment treaty.
Biden will be the most senior administration official to visit India since President Barack Obama visited in 2010.
While the US has been among the world powers calling for India to be given a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, observers detect a sense of drift in ties.
“India is a natural ally of the US but ... relations require greasing occasionally because insecurities have crept in, especially on the Indian side,” said Subhash Agrawal, of the Delhi-based think tank India Focus.
Biden will head to Singapore on Thursday, where officials say he will tackle tensions over the disputed South China Sea.