In his summit discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the coming days, U.S. President Barack Obama is likely to push for India playing an active role on the global stage, including in the fight against the Islamic State and the scramble to contain Ebola.
The White House will also seek to address some of what it sees as the thorny issues in India’s economic policies, officials here said.
In a media briefing with senior administration officials on Friday, the U.S. was also quick to clarify that the summons issued against Mr. Modi on Thursday evening in the Federal District Court of New York could not be delivered to him while he was in the U.S. and he was immune from prosecution. The allegations in the case pertain to the role that the plaintiffs perceived Mr. Modi to have played in presiding over the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002.
The officials explained, “As a general legal principle, sitting heads of government enjoy immunity from suits in American courts. Sitting heads of government also enjoy personal inviolability while in the U.S., which means they cannot be personally handed or delivered papers.” The officials recognised that their summit would occur at a “remarkable time in international affairs.”
Policy issues will not mar Obama-Modi talks
Notwithstanding the concerns over the summons served on Prime Minister Modi for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, the President and First Lady were “very excited” to welcome Mr. Modi to Washington after his weekend in New York City, and at the President’s invitation the Prime Minister would be staying at Blair House, the White House said.
In a media briefing on Friday, senior administration officials said, Secretary of State John Kerry would discuss with Mr. Modi the many ways in which the U.S. was working with coalition partners to degrade and ultimately defeat the IS, a conversation that would presumably explore how India could join such efforts.
The officials also reiterated the summit meeting’s intention to address a broad spectrum of policy issues including security cooperation, defence, trade and investment, energy security for the 400 million-plus Indians without access to sufficient power, and India’s positive role in numerous trilateral contexts such as agricultural contributions to African nations and entrepreneurship development for women in Afghanistan.
The burgeoning bonhomie would, however, not stop the U.S. from bringing up some of the more contentious issues in the relationship, it was made clear, especially in the domain of economic policy.
Areas of concern
In this regard, the officials noted that their “areas of concern,” included issues of intellectual property and various constraints on investment. Yet the discussions would also consider “ongoing conversations about the Trade Facilitation Agreement in the WTO and move forward with the implementation of the TFA while addressing the longstanding concerns on food security that the Indian side has put forward in a constructive way.”
First of sorts
However, deflecting focus on “deliverables” during Mr. Modi’s five-day visit here, the White House was keen to underscore that his conversation with Mr. Obama would itself be a first of sorts.
“At the end of the day it’s not about the list that you can tick off after the visit ends but about the engagement over the next six, ten, eighteen months, about how you hold it together in addressing those goals and objectives,” the fficials noted, adding that the focus on “concrete outcomes,” was less important than the leaders having an opportunity to share their perspectives on their vision for the relationship.