9:28 pm - Thursday November 12, 2015

Obama visit will tap into “unfulfilled” bilateral potential

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Days ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama arriving in India senior administration officials here characterised the bilateral relationship as having reached a “seminal moment,” even as they outlined a heavy agenda for the President’s engagement with the Modi government in New Delhi including civil nuclear cooperation, climate change, defence trade, economic ties and counterterrorism.

In a background call with media here White House officials underscored the prominence attributed to the bilateral relationship, manifested in part by the fact that a range of U.S. leaders were accompanying the President to India, including First Lady Michelle Obama, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Chair and Co-Chair of the India Caucus respectively Senator Mark Warner and Representative Joseph Crowley, and Indian-American Congressman Ami Bera from California.

The White House has clarified that the President’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, would not be joining the trip, as “Their priority is school, so they tend to travel on overseas visits that take place in the summer when that’s not the overriding factor.

Although the officials, Deputy National Security Advisor For Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes and National Security Council Senior Director For South Asia Phil Reiner declined to preview specific deliverables or announcements for Mr. Obama’s upcoming trip to India they emphasised the “unique moment of opportunity” that the two governments for a “breakthrough.”

A core focal point during the summit discussion in New Delhi will be opportunities for the business community in the bilateral space, and Mr. Obama will join Mr. Modi in participating in a CEO forum along with a substantial number of U.S. and Indian business leaders, Mr. Rhodes said.

He added that Penny Pritzker, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, would also join these discussions.

Work on civil nuclear cooperation and defence technology development, where progress has slowed owing to the Indian nuclear liability law and U.S. concerns over sensitive technology transfers, would see a “leader-level” push for solutions, Mr. Reiner noted.

On counterterrorism, especially given concerns in India about Pakistan-based militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, the U.S. officials gave assurances that the Obama administration was focused on those groups that are operating in South Asia.

“When you look at the network of extremist groups that operate in that part of the world, from al Qaida to the Pakistani Taliban, to the Haqqani Network to LeT, we have significant counterterrorism cooperation with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India that has been a priority of this administration from day one,” Mr. Rhodes said.

On clean energy cooperation, which is likely to feature prominently on the bilateral agenda here, Mr. Rhodes referenced the recent U.S.-China breakthrough deal on climate change when he said, “The pressure comes from the reality of climate change, and every country should feel that urgency… There’s no such thing as a successful agreement unless all of the major emitters are doing their part, and India recognises that, just as China does, just as we do.”

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