Obama announces nuclear breakthrough on landmark India trip

25 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Early in Obama’s India visit, a nuclear power breakthrough.

President Barack Obama throws rose petals as he participates in a wreath laying ceremony at the Raj Ghat Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India on Sunday. The two countries had been at an impasse over U.S. insistence on tracking fissile material it supplies to India and over Indian liability provisions that have discouraged U.S. firms from capitalizing on a 2008 civil nuclear agreement between the U.S. and India. “In our judgment, the Indians have moved sufficiently on these issues to give us assurances that the issues are resolved,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

Obama will be the first U.S. president to attend India’s Republic Day parade, a show of military might long associated with the anti-Americanism of the Cold War, and will host a radio show with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Within hours of his arrival a delighted Obama and Modi announced an agreement that could pave the way for billions of dollars in contracts for American nuclear power companies. His presence at Monday’s procession at Modi’s personal invitation is the latest revival in a roller-coaster relationship between the two largest democracies that just a year ago was in tatters. “I’d like to think the stars are aligned to finally realise the vision (of) India and America as true global partners,” Obama said in an interview with India Today, a weekly magazine, published on Friday. Though details weren’t released, the two men told a press conference that an “understanding” had been reached to modify strict liability laws to protect US nuclear suppliers in case of an accident. In a joint appearance following their meetings, both men went out of their way to illustrate how their personal chemistry was yielding progress on various fronts, from defense, to trade to energy issues. “Barack and I have formed a bond, a friendship,” Modi said. “We can laugh and joke and talk easily on the phone.

The two leaders discussed long-standing differences, including the impasse over India’s liability law, which would hold American suppliers responsible for accidents at the power plants. “Six years after we signed our bilateral agreement, we are moving toward commercial cooperation, consistent with our law, our international legal obligations, and technical and commercial viability,” Mr. The chemistry that has brought Barack and me closer has also brought Washington and Delhi closer.” Obama said: “Your election and your strong personal commitment to the US-India relationship gives us an opportunity to further energize these efforts.” Under hazy skies Sunday, Modi greeted Obama with a hug on the airport tarmac and offered an elaborate welcome at the country’s sprawling presidential palace. The United States views India as a vast market and potential counterweight to China’s assertiveness in Asia, but frequently grows frustrated with the slow pace of economic reforms and unwillingness to side with Washington in international affairs. “Particularly with regards to security, and we would like a much greater understanding with the United States with regards to regional issues,” India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley said in Davos ahead of Obama’s visit. Elected last May, Modi has injected a new vitality into the economy and foreign relations and, to Washington’s delight, begun pushing back against China’s growing presence in South Asia. The White House said Obama will depart slightly early from India to travel to Saudi Arabia following the death of King Abdullah, instead of a planned visit to the Taj Mahal.

Obama said the administration is “deeply concerned” about the latest deadly flare-up in eastern Ukraine, where authorities said indiscriminate rocket fire killed at least 30 people in Mariupol, in the southeast, on Saturday. And officials from both governments have been working overtime to ensure the encounter delivers more than just a colorful handshake. “This is an important visit.

On Yemen, which has been a close U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism, Obama denied that the political vacuum created there last week has affected U.S. counterterrorism operations inside the Middle Eastern country. But it must go beyond the symbolism, which I think is no doubt important in itself,” says Kanwal Sibal, India’s former foreign secretary. “Both sides have to bridge differences on some key issues.” Indeed, US-India divides are deeper than recognized, ranging from cold-war-era strategic outlooks to potential American investment. Obama said recent news reports to the contrary are inaccurate. “We continue to go after high-value targets inside of Yemen and continue to maintain the pressure that’s required to keep the American people safe,” he said.

Both leaders also touted an agreement to jointly produce new defense technology.These projects “will help upgrade our domestic defense industry and expand the manufacturing sector in India,” Mr. A brief issued Jan. 22 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace counsels the US president not to look for a quid pro quo with Modi, but to return to the approach Washington took with India at a time when the subcontinent often sided with the former Soviet Union and the US expected little.

The normally bustling streets of New Delhi were empty and the sidewalks cleared by Indian police as Obama’s motorcade sped from the palace to Gandhi’s memorial. Other matters likely to come up include US troop withdrawal in Afghanistan and its implications for India’s security, as well as border tensions between India and Pakistan. The show of solidarity Sunday came against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive and well-armed China that has altered the balance of power in Asia.

Trade is a priority: In a visit here earlier this month, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US wants to increase bilateral trade from its current $97 billion to $500 billion, close to the current US-China trade figure. For example, while Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping just agreed to a major greenhouse gas reduction target, India, one of the world’s leading emitters of greenhouse gases, has stoutly refused all requests to reduce its carbon footprint. Earlier, Obama walked in his socks into a walled courtyard to lay a large white wreath at the site where Gandhi, India’s independence icon, was cremated. US-India military exercises have grown in frequency, and today the US is India’s biggest arms supplier, even if many of the heavy weapons Obama will observe during Monday’s parade are made in Russia. The visit is expected to yield a further phase of a defense agreement dating to 2005 involving technology transfer, research, and anti-terror measures.

The American president is admired in India, largely for his support for an Indian seat on the UN Security Council, even if the endorsement is symbolic.

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