To re-energise ties,PM wants to visit US,waits for confirmation

Inability of govt to take it further has become cause of frustration in India-US relationship.

Written by Pranab Dhal Samanta | New Delhi | Published: May 18, 2013 4:03 am

While New Delhi prepares to host China’s new Premier Li Keqiang on his first foreign visit starting Sunday,quiet efforts are under way to firm up a visit to the United States by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India and the US,it is reliably learnt,have been in touch over the past couple of months after New Delhi evinced interest in the PM visiting Washington. While the White House has not given any firm response so far,sources said Secretary of State John Kerry may arrive with a confirmation next month. He is expected to be here in the third week of June for the India-US strategic dialogue.

US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns,who was here last week ahead of Kerry’s visit,is said to have discussed with his Indian counterparts the possibility of the PM’s visit, and signalled that Washington too had put this down as priority. Both sides,sources said,are keen to address the perceived loss of momentum in the relationship.

The US has been upset with the slow progress on some key initiatives such as the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement,which has not translated into concrete business due to hurdles posed by the liabilities law. While both sides are working hard to ensure that Westinghouse’s techno-commercial agreement for building a reactor in Gujarat can be announced during Kerry’s visit,the overall pace has been slow compared to what Russia and France have achieved.

On the business side,Washington has been pressing for relaxation in FDI restrictions across financial sectors without many pre-conditions,a factor that is inhibiting investors in the retail sector. While India has been giving assurances,the inability of the government to take it further has become a cause of frustration in the India-US relationship.

At this point,however,the changing strategic environment in the region and the fallout of an assertive China are key concerns for India that is looking to strengthen its security capabilities. In this context,the two countries are in conversation to establish a defence technology initiative which will result in co-production of US-origin military hardware in India.

With India keen to signal that it continues to value the US as a key strategic partner,it was felt that a high-level visit could provide some fresh impetus to the relationship. The impression that Singh was a much weakened PM in the last year of his term did have its effect on Washington,which

has been pushing India to step up the pace on implementing earlier decisions and initiatives.

On a broader level,India is looking to re-energise its relationship with the US as it looks to deal with a difficult security scenario after NATO troops pull out from Afghanistan and a new regime in China aims to close ranks with Pakistan.

New Delhi is also concerned by the State Department reaching out to the Pakistani Army chief instead of the civilian government in the tripartite peace talks with Afghanistan.

It is important,sources said,for India to ensure clear strategic communication with the US in this transition period and for that,fresh momentum in other aspects of the bilateral relationship could hold the key.

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