Obama, India’s leader seek to reinvigorate ties

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 6:27pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 6:33pm

President Barack Obama is hosting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for talks on trade and security, offering a chance to inject new life into the partnership amid concerns that relations have stagnated.

The leaders of the world’s two largest democracies were meeting on Friday at the White House, where they were expected to firm-up plans for moving forward on defence and civil nuclear agreements. US efforts to counter China’s growing influence and the tenuous situation in Afghanistan will be strong undertones, even if the leaders don’t address them explicitly in public.

Economic co-operation and clean-energy initiatives also were on the agenda, the White House said. Singh may also press President Obama on concerns about how India’s high-skilled workers would be affected by immigration legislation pending in Congress.

A frequent exchange of official visits has characterised the close relationship between the two countries. Singh visited Washington in 2009, and Obama travelled to India a year later. Vice-President Joe Biden, who will attend the meeting on Friday, recently spent four days in India, where he met with Singh and emphasised the benefits of increased trade.

“There’s a bipartisan sense in Washington that India ... occupies potentially a very important role – not least because it stands next to China.”
Former State Department official Daniel Markey

A landmark agreement on civil nuclear technology forged between Singh and former president Bush has failed to yield the immediate economic benefits some had hoped. There’s been disappointment that military trade and economic reforms haven’t progressed quickly enough either.

Both nations see a close partnership as key to their own interests.

“There’s a bipartisan sense in Washington that India, being a large, growing Asian democracy, occupies potentially a very important role – not least because it stands next to China,” said Daniel Markey, a former State Department official and South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It could be an Asia giant to counter some of China’s influence in the world.”

India may also be seeking assurances about war-torn Afghanistan, where New Delhi is concerned the Taliban may fill the power vacuum created by the withdrawal of US troops. Chief among India’s concerns is the role its neighbour and rival, Pakistan, will play in influencing Afghanistan’s future.

Although Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are working toward warmer relations, violence along the disputed Kashmir border threatens to undermine progress between the two nuclear-armed countries.

Ahead of Obama’s meeting with Singh, the White House announced on Wednesday that Obama will meet with Sharif next month in Washington.