PM Modi’s U.S. visit yields many vital agreements

PM Modi and President Biden announce deals on jet engine tech transfers, drones, health and space cooperation; democracy is in our veins, says Modi, maintaining that there is no discrimination in India

June 23, 2023 01:49 am | Updated June 26, 2023 12:28 pm IST - WASHINGTON

President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi leave after a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on June 22, 2023.

President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi leave after a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on June 22, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden marked what they have described as a new stage in the India-U.S. relationship, as Mr. Modi was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the White House’s South Lawn by Mr. Biden and First Lady Jill Biden on a drizzly Thursday morning .

Cabinet officials on both sides and a few thousand diaspora members — some of whom chanted “Modi, Modi” — were in attendance. The visit was not just pomp and ceremony — the two sides announced a long list of deliverables spanning defence, critical and emerging technology, health, energy and mobility. Mr. Biden characterised this as a “next-generation partnership” between the two countries.

“After becoming the Prime Minister, I have come here many times, but today for the first time the doors of the White House have been opened for the Indian-American community in such large numbers,” Mr. Modi said.

Members of the diaspora in attendance chanted “Modi, Modi” and “Vande mataram” before the Prime Minister’s arrival , while some also shouting “USA, USA” during the ceremony.

Also read | PM Modi’s U.S. visit Day 3 updates

Also palpable in Washington were concerns around Mr. Modi’s past, when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, as well as concerns about democratic backsliding in India, today. Over 70 lawmakers wrote to Mr. Biden asking him to raise democratic norms and human rights during his discussions with Mr. Modi. A handful of lawmakers announced they would boycott Mr. Modi’s address to the U.S. Congress.

Former President Barack Obama, who is a close friend of Mr. Biden, also weighed in, appealing to Mr. Modi to protect ethnic minorities in India.

“…As democracies, we can better tap into the full talent of all of our people and attract investments… with our greatest export being the power of our example: equity under the law, freedom of expression, religious, pluralism and diversity of our people,” Mr. Biden said in his welcome speech on the South Lawn of the White House.

Both leaders referred to the two countries’ constitutions beginning with the phrase “We the people”.

“Both of our countries take pride in their diversity. Both of us believe in the fundamental principle of in the interest of all for the welfare of all,” Mr. Modi said as per a translated version of his speech. “Our strong strategic partnership is a clear proof of the power of democracy,” he added.

Also read |PM Modi’s U.S. visit Day 1 updates

Both the leaders delivered remarks after their bilateral meeting and Mr. Modi answered two questions — one on democracy in India from the American press corps and another on climate change from the Indian press corps. The Prime Minister normally does not have two-way press interactions on foreign visits.

Mr. Modi agreed with Mr. Biden that democracy was in the DNA of India and the United States. “Democracy runs in our veins,” Mr. Modi said and he denied there was any discrimination in India.

The Prime Minister and President discussed the war in Ukraine during their bilateral meeting. “We are completely ready to contribute in any way we can to restore peace,” Mr. Modi told the press after the discussion.

Also read | PM Modi’s U.S. visit Day 2 updates

Jet engine tech transfer

Earlier in the day, General Electric and Hindustan Aeronautical Limited announced they had signed a big-ticket MoU for the co-production in India of GE 414 Jet Engines for the Tejas Mk2 light combat aircraft. U.S. officials who briefed journalists before the announcement appeared to be patting themselves on the back for the deal, with one official describing the Indian side as being “ surprised and thrilled by the steps” the American side has been able to take to overcome bureaucratic roadblocks to the deal. India’s purchase of armed drones is also likely to be announced on Thursday.

Also Read | Explained: Why is the U.S.-India fighter jet deal important?

The Defence Ministries of the two countries also launched the inaugural session of an innovation platform, ‘INDUS-X’ , in Washington DC on June 21, hosted by the U.S. India Business Council (USIBC), to foster defence industrial collaboration. Among the big announcements from the private sector coinciding with the visit, U.S. semiconductor technology and chip maker Micron Technology, Inc said it would invest up to $825 million in a new chip assembly and test facility in Gujarat, which would be bolstered by investment from the Indian government and Gujarat State government totalling $2.75 billion in all.

In space cooperation, India joined the Artemis Accords of (so far) 25 countries for space exploration and cooperation. The two countries have agreed on a framework for human spaceflight this year and have agreed a mission to the International Space Station in 2024.

After years of pandemic-induced visa slowdowns, the U.S. is announcing a pilot program to renew visas domestically (i.e., applicants do not have to travel outside to get their renewal stamp), for certain petition-based temporary workers. This program could expand to cover H1b and L skilled visas by 2024 and to other categories eventually. It will also open two new consulates in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad. India will reopen its consulate in Seattle, and announce new consulates elsewhere.

(With inputs from Suhasini Haidar in New Delhi)

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