The U.S. State Department on Tuesday clarified that regardless of the meeting scheduled this week between Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Ambassador to India Nancy Powell there was “no change” in Washington’s long-standing visa policy or in its “strong advocacy for human rights around the world”.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki suggested that despite Ambassador Powell’s plans to meet Mr. Modi in Gujarat, the U.S. was effectively holding firm to its 2005 decision to deny Mr. Modi an entry visa.
At that time the State Department refused to issue Mr. Modi a diplomatic visa under 214(b) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act and revoked his existing tourist/business visa under Section 212 (a)(2)(g) of the Act, an action linked to concerns about Mr. Modi’s association with the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which thousands were killed as an anti-Muslim pogrom was unleashed on his watch.
When asked to explain why the U.S. had decided to have its officials meet Mr. Modi after a nine-year hiatus, Ms. Psaki responded, “We are often engaged in concentrated outreach to senior political and business leaders. We began doing that months ago, if not years ago… to highlight and continue our U.S.-India relationship. This is an effort in that engagement.”
The spokesperson also denied that its senior-most official meeting Mr. Modi scarcely a few months before India holds general elections was any indication that it was taking a position on Indian politics.
When pressed on this Ms. Psaki said, “We don’t take positions in elections, and certainly this is not an example of us taking a position. It is just a reflection… of us reaching out to a range of individuals from different backgrounds [and] political affiliations, which we do in countries around the world.”
The official refuted any notion that the meeting linked the U.S. to human rights violations or curtailment of religious freedoms. However she explained that decisions to hold such meetings “don’t always rise up to every highest level,” even if on this occasion “All relevant individuals who needed to weigh in weighed in, and agreed that it was certainly an appropriate meeting to have.”
Ms. Psaki also echoed the State Department’s past position on the visa issue when she reiterated, “When individuals apply for a visa, their applications are reviewed in accordance with U.S. law and policy. This is not a reflection of any change… We don’t speak to that, given it’s private.” When asked whether lobbying efforts in the U.S. had led to a change in its position on Mr. Modi’s visa, Ms. Psaki replied, “Not at all.”
On prior occasions the State Department has said that Mr. Modi was “welcome to apply” for a visa and should he do so the application would be evaluated as per U.S. law.