The US Secretary of State to meet External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for Strategic dialogue;to lay groundwork for US visit with PM

Nuclear and trade issues are likely to dominate talks as US Secretary of State John Kerry lands in Delhi on Wednesday night for the Indo-US Strategic dialogue. But Mr. Kerry’s bigger mission, as the first political cabinet-level visitor from the Obama Administration is to press the ‘restart button’ in ties that have seen no forward movement in almost a year. “Since former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit in September last year, neither side has had any significant forward-moving discussions,” a senior official told The Hindu. Ahead of Mr. Kerry’s visit, Prime Minister Modi held a meeting with Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday, to discuss the government’s stand on the various issues confronting India-US relations.

On Thursday, Mr. Kerry will be meeting with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj along with a full delegation for the fifth Indo-US strategic dialogue. He will be accompanied by US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, and officials of the Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security and NASA. Mr. Kerry will also meet with Prime Minister Modi, and “lay the groundwork for his visit to Washington” on September 30, according a statement by the US state department. On Friday, Mr. Kerry will meet with Mr. Jaitley, and sources said discussions on defence purchases that the US is pushing, including helicopters, missiles, and ultra-light howitzer guns are expected to be positive.

During the strategic dialogue, India and the US will try and iron out the issues in conducting civil nuclear trade. Despite interest from companies like Westinghouse and GE, trade has been blocked over US concerns on India’s suppliers’ liability clause. India has already been able to cross similar hurdles with France and Russia. Speaking on Indo-US relations at the American Centre for Progress in Washington, Mr Kerry said, “We need to build on the U.S. India Civil Nuclear Agreement, so that American companies can start building and can start providing clean power to millions in India”. However, diplomat and BJP leader Hardeep Puri also said that the US must be sensitive to India’s concerns on both the nuclear issues and trade liberalisation. “We cannot realise the full potential of our important bilateral relationship and global partnership unless our American partners are sensitive to our red lines as well,” he told The Hindu

Mr. Kerry will also discuss climate change, clean energy, visa issues and cooperation on terror. The bigger challenge for the leaders, perhaps, will be to put aside the big controversies of the past, including the denial of Mr. Modi’s visa in 2005, anger over the arrest of diplomat Devyani Khobragade, and the recent revelations on US NSA surveillance of Indian consulates and the BJP’s leadership.