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Can Obama break the nuclear ice with India?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House. File photo  

Taking the salute at the Republic Day parade, bilateral talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a major speech on the future of Indo-U.S. ties will be the highlight of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to India this Sunday, even as he is expected to pack in some time for sightseeing with his family.

Officials in New Delhi and Washington remain tight-lipped about the details, but the contours of his agenda are becoming clear. He is scheduled to land in New Delhi on the night of January 24 on a four-day visit, his second as U.S. President, and while officials are yet to confirm it, he is expected to be accompanied by First lady Michelle Obama, and his daughters Sasha and Malia, who weren’t here in 2010.



India Itinerary
 

Jan 24 – Barack Obama arrives in New Delhi



Jan 25 – Reviews Presidential Guard of honour, visits Raj Ghat, holds talks with Narendra Modi, attends reception and banquet at Rashtrapati Bhavan



Jan 26 – Attends Republic Day parade, takes part in India-U.S. CEO conclave, attends dinner hosted by Narendra Modi



Jan 27 – Addressed meet at Siri Fort Auditorium, visits the Taj Mahal, departs to the US


Agenda
 

Strengthen ties in renewable energy

Revive bilateral investment treaty

Sign strategic defence framework

Forge closer ties on cyber security



On January 25, he will review the presidential guard of honour and visit Rajghat with many speculating that Mr. Modi would accompany him there, just as President Obama accompanied Mr. Modi to the Martin Luther King memorial when he was in Washington last year. Later, both leaders will have a bilateral meeting where they are expected to review the entire gamut of the relationship and also touch upon regional and international developments. That evening he is expected to attend President Pranab Mukherjee's official banquet.

Discussions on Indo-U.S. ties are expected to focus on four particular areas identified by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when he visited — defence, climate change, bilateral trade and nuclear issues.

On defence, the two sides will sign the new strategic framework replacing the earlier signed in 2005 and is set to expire in 2015. Also under the Defence Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI), the U.S. is set to propose several projects for joint development and production. It has been learnt that the U.S. has given a list of 17 projects to the Indian side for consideration.

On climate change front, both sides are expected to give a major push for renewable energy with the U.S. set to offer a grant for India to purchase energy efficient technologies. The U.S. is also keen on having India on board the climate convention at the upcoming climate summit at end of the year in Paris.

In an effort to give major impetus to bilateral trade, both countries are negotiating the revival of the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). The U.S. has been pushing for early conclusion of BIT for protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) of its companies. India is also hopeful of a totalisation agreement as well visa liberalisation agreement which would help Indians working in the US. On this front, a senior finance ministry delegation was in Washington DC last week to finalise the agreements.

Another area of focus is “counter terror and cyber security”. Both sides are working to announce closer cooperation on counter terrorism including revitalising the cyber security working group and terror financing, even as the two leaders will discuss relations with Pakistan and the situation in Afghanistan.

The most closely watched negotiations, however, will be on clearing the nuclear logjam over India’s supplier liability law. As The Hindu had reported last month, two new proposals from India could pave the way for a resolution of the impasse: on an insurance pool, and clarifying the contentious Section 46 of the law. This has become a sticking point for U.S. nuclear companies to invest in India in spite of the U.S. facilitating the wavier for India at Nuclear Supply Group (NSG) for nuclear trade. India also expects U.S. support for other nuclear regimes and the administrative arrangements to be readied ahead of any breakthrough.

On January 26 Mr. Obama will be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade, the first time a U.S. president has been here. Later in the day, both the leaders will attend the “India-US CEO conclave”. In the evening, he will attend President Pranab Mukherjee's at-home tea, where politicians, academics, and senior service officers are invited. Mr. Modi is expected to host a small dinner for him at 7, Race Course Road that evening.

On the last day of his visit on January 27, Mr. Obama will deliver an address “India and America: The Future We Can Build Together” at Siri Fort Auditorium and then travel to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, something his family has made a special request for. On his last visit in 2010, the Obamas didn’t make it to Agra.

Mr. Obama is likely to be accompanied by 1,600 U.S. security personnel. Advance teams have already taken over hotel ITC Maurya where he will stay and are also monitoring the entire route to be travelled by the U.S. President. The Delhi-Agra expressway is already under surveillance as majority of his equipment will be moved by road.

This article has been edited to correct Barack Obama’s itinerary. His programme is, of course, subject to last minute changes.

Corrections and Clarifications

This article has been edited to reflect the following correction:

Can Barack Obama break the nuclear logjam? (Jan. 20, 2015) – in the second and penultimate paragraphs – erroneously referred to Mr. Obama’s visit to India in 2008. It should have been 2010.

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