January 25, 2015 3:37:43 am
President Barack Obama has curtailed his India visit, skipping a trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, to be able to fly directly from New Delhi to Saudi Arabia to pay his condolences following the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.
Obama was scheduled to visit the Taj with wife Michelle Obama on January 27, for which elaborate security arrangements had been made.
Now, he will be leaving India early on Tuesday for Riyadh.
During his visit starting Sunday morning, Obama will have eight occasions where he would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Among other issues, the PM is likely to convey India’s willingness to give “assurance” to assuage the concerns of US suppliers regarding the nuclear liability law.
The Modi-Obama meetings will take place over a ceremonial reception, bilateral talks, private lunch, business events, recording of Mann ki Baat, official banquet, the Republic Day parade and the President’s At Home, on January 25 and 26. There could be more meetings in case the PM chooses to meet Obama beyond these “scheduled opportunities”, a government source said, not ruling out the possibility of a “send-off” too on January 27.
“It will be an unprecedented amount of face-time the two leaders will have. They can discuss the entire range of issues of bilateral and regional nature,” a US official told The Sunday Express.
Sources said Modi and Obama are also expected to discuss “exchange of terror watchlists”, which had been agreed upon by the two leaders in Washington in September last year. A part of the conversation will take place between National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval and his American counterpart Susan Rice.
While Obama is expected to push Modi to resume the dialogue process with Pakistan, India is going to make it clear that Islamabad will have to rein-in the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and other anti-India groups first, to create a domestic atmosphere for the talks. Modi is expected to bring up the recent successful elections in Jammu and Kashmir during the conversation.
Sources said that the US expertise in countering the threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) through information and technology is also expected to be part of the conversation. A meeting held in the past fortnight has given a push to this project.
Modi, who will be hosting Obama and his team of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzeker and US Trade Representative Mike Froman for lunch at his residence on Monday, will also discuss the possibility of early scheduling of the “commercial dialogue”, including innovation in “advanced manufacturing”. This is in tune with Modi’s Make in India programme.
On the trade front, India and the US are expected to set a target of US $500 bn, up from the current US $100 bn, in a reasonable time frame. In this context, the annual US-India economic and finance partnership will be activated in the early half of the year.
Sources said New Delhi will also be looking forward to the American response — both from the US President and the business leaders — to India’s “legally-worded assurance”, which takes care of their concerns regarding Section 46 of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Act. In London this week, Indian officials handed over the assurance to American officials and representatives of WestingHouse and GE.
Sources said that India and the US are working till last minute to get a breakthrough on the “administrative arrangements” — which will resolve differences on the positions of the two countries regarding tracking of nuclear fuel. “We have told US officials that IAEA inspections are the only way. It is going to allow the American government to track the nuclear material in the country.”
Also, India and the US will be working for a more “incremental language” in the joint statement on India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group.
As Obama left the US for his India visit on Saturday, the White House issued a statement that the President “regrets” not being able to visit the Taj during this trip.
“We adjusted the schedule in coordination with the Indian government so that the President would be able to depart India following his speech on Tuesday to stop in Riyadh during the return trip to meet with King Salman and other Saudi officials and offer his condolences on behalf of the American people.”
The statement also mentioned that the US Vice-President was originally to have led a delegation to Saudi Arabia on the President’s behalf. “As the President’s and Vice-President’s travel schedules became clearer, we determined that the window when the Vice-President would be on the ground in Riyadh coincided with the President’s departure from India,” it said, noting that accordingly Obama’s schedule was adjusted.
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