Event ReportsPublished on Nov 01, 2014
Viewed through the prism of recent difficulties in India-US engagement, the focus of PM Modi?s US visit was in the nature of the leadership of the two nations getting to know each other, as well as aimed at building trust and fostering commitment between them, says former Secretary in the MEA, Mr. M. Ganapathi.
Indo-US ties moving to transformational stage, says ex-diplomat
"Indo-US relations are poised to move from the transactional to a transformational stage," said Mr M Ganapathi, former Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs, while initiating a discussion on "Prime Minister Modi's US Visit" at the Chennai Chapter of Observer Research Foundation on 1 November 2014.

Mr. Ganapathi described the Prime Minister's visit, from 26-30 September 2014, as exceptionally good and successful.

He noted that in the run-up to the US visit, important Cabinet members of the US Administration had visited India to prepare the ground. PM Modi had given an interview to Fareed Zakaria of the CNN -- and in what was a first, penned an 'Opinion' piece for the Wall Street Journal with an invitation to "Make in India". In his article, PM Modi saw the US as India's natural global partner.

Mr Ganapathi said that the visit could be seen through the prism of four parameters - viz, the engagements at the UN, outreach towards the large Indian community, bilateral meetings with other world leaders on the margins of the UNGA, and last but not the least from a bilateral Indo-US perspective. It was a visit packed with meetings based on a structured agenda.

In his address to the UNGA, the Prime Minister referred to a surge to democracy across the world, mentioned India's desire for a peaceful and stable environment for its development with highest priority on advancing friendship and cooperation with her neighbours; said that India was prepared to engage in a serious bilateral dialogue with Pakistan in a peaceful atmosphere; without the shadow of terrorism; expressed readiness to share India's modest resources with other developing countries; recalled problems and uncertainties in maritime security, Europe, West Asia and Africa; mentioned seas, space and cyber space as possible new theatres of conflicts; referred to an interdependent world; called for genuine international partnership; reform of the UN; underlined the need for a concerted international effort to combat terrorism and extremism with adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism; referred to energising the task of UN Peacekeeping; and called for pursuing universal global disarmament and non-proliferation.

While elaborating on the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDG), the Prime Minister clearly spelt out India's viewpoint and emphasised that eradication of poverty must remain core of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. He finally called for the adoption of an 'International Yoga Day'.

Transformative relationship

According to Mr. Ganapathi, the content of the visit was substantial in terms of engagements and outcomes. Reflecting the desire of the US to assess India's new leadership and also reflect on India's stature as an important strategic political and economic partner, US President Barack Obama hosted a private dinner for Prime Minister Modi on his first day in Washington and held substantive talks on the second day. The tone and tenor of the visit was further exemplified by the warmth of welcome accorded by President Obama to PM Modi as also accompanying him to the Martin Luther King Memorial.

The two leaders released a "Vision Statement for the US-India Strategic Partnership 'Chalein Saath Saath: Forward Together We Go'", where they foresaw the US and India having a transformative relationship as trusted partners in the 21st century with their partnership as a model for the rest of the world. A jointly penned Op-Ed in the Washington Post titled "A renewed US-India partnership for the 21st century" outlining the contours and content of the partnership was a historical first in bilateral relations. Modi's Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal, Mr Ganapathi recalled, said that the Indo-US natural and unique partnership could help shape international security and peace for years to come. A Joint Statement elaborated on the scope and expanse of the substance of the talks and further steps in progressing the relations.

Mr Ganapathi noted that the visit saw a heavy emphasis on an economic agenda with the Prime Minister hosting 11 CEOs of major US companies for breakfast and having one-on-one discussions with six others. He also addressed the US-India Business Council (USIBC). This is reflected in the outcome with cooperation identified in the areas of infrastructure, finance and development, railways, 'smart cities' (Ajmer, Allahabad and Visakhapatnam), clean water and sanitation, energy, particularly clean energy, science, technology, skills upgradation, education and innovation with a global initiative on academic networks, partnership on creating digital infrastructure and mega science projects.

The Prime Minister made a strong presentation of "Make in India". An agreement for $ 1 billion in concessional financing from the US EXIM Bank to the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) was concluded. The USIBC said that it had identified investments worth $ 42 billion as FDI. The US will partner in the setting up of a new IIT. It will consider bringing 1,000 teachers a year from 100 top universities to central Indian Universities. The two sides will partner on creating digital infrastructure and mega science projects. There will be greater NASA-ISRO cooperation.

Security cooperation

Defence, security and strategic issues were important elements in the discussions and adequately covered in the joint documents and speeches. Mr Ganapathi pointed to the agreement for stronger partnership against terror and criminal groups -- including LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed, D-Company and the Haqqani nework, enhanced cooperation against counterfeit currency, misuse of cyberspace, cooperation in facilitating investigation of criminal and terrorist activities and to partner in dealing with foreign terrorist fighters and terror watchlists (exchange of information) particularly details of fighters returning from conflict zones in Syria and Iraq.

There was forward movement on procuring Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAP's) for Indian para-military forces and cooperation in countering IEDs. A decision to have US assistance in the new National Defence University, maritime security and naval technology were other areas for cooperation. The Framework Agreement for India-US Defence Cooperation will be renewed for a further 10 years and there was forward movement on Defence Trade and Technology Initiative. For the first time, a reference to South China Sea figured in the Joint Statement.

Mr Ganapathi said that the US reaffirmed its support for India's candidature for a permanent seat on the UNSC and to enhance India's voice and vote in international financial institutions. The US expressed support and noted forward movement in India's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime. Civil nuclear cooperation will be addressed through a contact group. Trilateral development related partnerships in Afghanistan and among African partners would be enhanced.

Time out with Diaspora

The PM took considerable time out in meeting the Indian Diaspora. The major event was the address at the Madison Square Garden, attended by nearly 20,000 people, including around 50 members of the political leadership. The PM dwelt at length on the events in India and his Government's policies, including minimum government maximum governance, opening up of the economy, 'Clean Ganga' project, health & education, and further facilities for NRIs.

Some important announcements related to harmonisation of the PIO and OCI cards, no police reporting for PIO cardholders staying beyond 180 days, and visa on arrival for US citizens. Mr Ganapathi noted that decisions on some of these had already been arrived at on PM's return. The other important meetings included an address to youth; and to members of the Council for Foreign Relations.

SAARC Summit and cooperation

The PM also held bilateral talks on the margins of his UN/US visit. Issues such as the Teesta water, the Land Boundary Agreement, terrorism and cross border security concerns figured in the discussions with Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina. In his meeting with the Nepalese PM, both leaders expressed satisfaction on the follow-up to the agreements arrived at during PM's visit to Kathmandu. India assured Nepal of logistical support in the conduct of the SAARC Summit later in November 2014.

The PM raised the question of political autonomy in Northern Sri Lanka as also matters relating to Tamil fisherman besides development projects in his interaction with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The South Asian leaders supported PM's initiative for an 'International Yoga Day'. PM Modi also met the Israeli counterparts. Besides, bilateral relations, the two leaders also discussed the situation in West Asia.

Concluding the discussion, Mr Ganapathi said that the PM's visit was exceptionally good. Viewed through the prism of recent difficulties in India-US engagement, the focus of the visit was not only in the nature of the leadership of the two nations getting to know each other, but was also aimed at building trust and fostering commitment between them. Seen in this context, the visit could be termed as more than successful.

(This report is prepared by Deepak Vijayaraghavan, Chennai)
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