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Friday, January 23, 2015

Obama and India’s Premier See Mutual Benefit in Breaking the Ice

Good piece!
Mike

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/23/world/asia/obama-and-modi-see-mutual-benefit-in-breaking-more-ice.html?src=me
By ELLEN BARRYJAN. 22, 2015
Photo
An Indian shopkeeper offered kites with images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Barack Obama in Mumbai this month.  CreditIndranil Mukherjee/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
NEW DELHI — Ever since India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, visitedPresident Obama in the fall, the word in New Delhi has been that the two men — one a former Hindu activist, the other a former law professor — had “chemistry.”
Mr. Obama broke the ice by leaving his White House staff behind to give Mr. Modi a personal 15-minute tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Soon after, Mr. Modi decided to invite Mr. Obama to Republic Day celebrations this month, becoming the first Indian leader to choose an American as his guest for the spectacular annual parade.
It is hard to say who was more taken aback: the Americans — Mr. Obama’s attendance required him to juggle the timing of the State of the Union address — or the Indians, when Mr. Obama said yes. He is scheduled to arrive in New Delhi on Sunday.
The emerging good will between the two leaders was not preordained. Mr. Modi came into office with a formidable piece of baggage, having been blacklisted by the United States government for nearly a decade over his handling of religious riots in Gujarat, the state he led. American diplomats’ efforts to mend fences were late and awkward, and Mr. Modi is known to hold a grudge.
http://static01.nyt.com/images/2015/01/23/world/23VISIT2/23VISIT2-master495.jpg
Beneath the surface of the two leaders’ personal relationship are the shifting tectonic plates of geopolitics. With the expansion of Chinese power into the Indian Ocean, American and Indian interests in the region are gradually converging. It is difficult to say which government was more quietly gratified this month when Sri Lanka’s Beijing-aligned president lost his re-election bid, making it less likely that the island off India’s coast would eventually provide a foothold for Chinese military expansion.
And aides to Mr. Modi say the yearslong discussion of his human rights record concealed an important fact: He is, compared with nearly all of the Indian leaders who preceded him, quite pro-American.
“He was always very canny in recognizing that the United States was important for his own ambitions, and for Indian ambitions,” said Ashley Tellis, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of a new report on the two countries’ relationship. “What was missing was that connective tissue which takes what he knew in his head and translates it into action.”
The meeting between the two leaders in Washington, he said, provided that emotional turning point.
This week has brought a marathon of last-minute negotiations, mainly over issues that the United States and India have been grappling with for years.
Mr. Modi has styled himself as a detonator of roadblocks, and some headway may be made this time. A central obstacle is the sweeping liability law passed by Parliament in 2010 that froze plans for American corporations to construct nuclear power plants in India. Negotiators are also trying to finalize major defense purchases and to close gaps on exports of Indian pharmaceuticals, some of which the United States bans over patent disputes and safety concerns.
American officials, meanwhile, have pressed for India to follow China’s lead and agree to an ambitious target to limit carbon emissions, although they have played down expectations for a breakthrough. But the officials said the potential seemed to make another trip to India worthwhile, making Mr. Obama the first American president to visit twice during his tenure.
“Our hope is that the chemistry between the leaders and the personal relationship can lead to positive outcomes for our country,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser. “And so it’s worth the investment in the relationship with the country, the leader and the people of India.”
Famously reserved, Mr. Obama does not forge close relationships with other world leaders easily. But Mr. Modi has been an exception, aides said, as the two leaders found some shared experiences.
“Just the humble origins from which both of them came from and the opportunities presented to both of them” created a “certain space in which the two leaders were able to engage in these conversations,” said Philip Reiner, Mr. Obama’s top adviser on South Asia.
Video
http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/09/30/world/asia/obama-modi/obama-modi-videoSixteenByNine540-v2.jpg
PLAY VIDEO|1:07
Modi Meets With Obama at White House
Modi Meets With Obama at White House
In September, during his first visit to the White House, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India discussed clean energy, trade and security issues with President Obama.
 Publish DateSeptember 30, 2014. Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times.
They now stand at very different points, one man confronting the question of how he will stand in history and the other enjoying international celebrity after years of harsh criticism from the West. Mr. Modi, in particular, has given careful thought to the symbolic takeaway of the visit for each leader.
“Go for the big guy himself, and his international rehabilitation is complete,” said Ashok Malik, a columnist who advised Mr. Modi’s campaign. “What does Obama get out of it? He needs a legacy like nobody’s business.”
Since last February, when the United States ambassador to India at the time, Nancy J. Powell, ended America’s nine-year period of not meeting with Mr. Modi and held a chilly meeting with him, a series of developments has warmed the atmosphere.
A frustrating trade dispute was resolved. Mr. Modi appointed two senior advisers to his government who had been living in the United States for years. India’s Ministry of External Affairs distanced itself from a diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, who was arrested in New York last year over her treatment of her maid, providing a rallying cry for anti-American sentiment in India. And Indian security officials were delighted when the F.B.I. openedan investigation into a former American diplomat, Robin L. Raphel, who they long said was influencing American policy in Pakistan’s favor.
One reason for a closer embrace of Washington by New Delhi is that the members of the new political elite around Mr. Modi have far deeper ties to the United States than their predecessors, from the left-leaning and long-dominant Indian National Congress party.
Many of Mr. Modi’s supporters are Gujarati businessmen who have prospered in the United States and preach the successful immigrants’ gospel of free enterprise. In the 1990s, as a campaigner for a Hindu nationalist organization, Mr. Modi spent months traveling in the United States, and aides say he avidly studied the country.
Although most Indians have a positive view of the United States, according to a Pew Research Center poll taken last year, that enthusiasm has never penetrated into India’s government — in particular its defense establishment. The roots of this are deep: The United States has sold advanced weaponry to Pakistan and China, two neighbors which India has gone to war with, and, after India conducted nuclear tests, imposed sanctions on the Indian military.
That this gap persists will be demonstrated on Monday, when Mr. Obama is to stand beside Mr. Modi at the Republic Day parade for an extensive display of Indian military hardware, much of it supplied by Russia. He will also be reminded of India’s pressing need for investment in infrastructure, an area where the United States cannot begin to compete with China and its vast, state-controlled reserves of foreign currency.
Indeed, the most important message from next week’s meeting could end up being a more subtle one: that the relationship is turning, as slowly as an oil tanker, toward a closer, more predictable long-term alignment.
Richard M. Rossow, an expert on Indian-American relations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the president’s decision to return to India so soon after meeting Mr. Modi was the best indication that the two men had sized each other up and wanted to move forward.
“Are they buddy-buddy?” he added. “That’s for them to tell you about. But more importantly for the president of the United States, he sees a counterpart that will actually try to deliver on things that are promised in those meetings. And so I think that is probably the best way that they can show friendship

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