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India, US eye stronger ties as PM set to visit Washington

Last updated on: June 10, 2013 10:02 IST

India, US eye stronger ties as PM set to visit Washington

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Jyoti Malhotra in Washington, DC

Manmohan Singh will pay an official visit to Washington, DC, in September-October, alongside a visit to the UN General Assembly in New York, in what promises to be his last visit to the US as prime minister.

In the meantime, US Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive in Delhi on June 24 for a "strategic dialogue".

The confirmation that the prime minister will come to the US for summit-level talks, by several Indian and US officials in Washington, DC, is even more interesting when seen in the context of a just-concluded summit meeting  between US President Barack Obama and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

Meanwhile, a Track Two political dialogue between India and the US, organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, concluded with a flurry of meetings in Washington, DC, and at America's top universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard and Boston University.

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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Photographs: Yuya Shino/Reuters

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Government officials in Washington, DC, are now preparing for the India-US CEOs Forum in July, which will be addressed by several government ministers, and followed by the PM's trip in a few months.

The fact that Ficci's Track Two multi-party delegation received such a significant play in Washington, DC, has been of considerable interest to US-India watchers Washington, DC.

The Ficci delegation met high-level leaders such as US deputy secretary of state Bill Burns, deputy secretary of defence Ashton Carter, India Caucus leaders in the Senate (including Democrat Mark Warner), the influential chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Ed Royce and Ami Bera, the only Congressman of Indian origin.

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Image: A view of downtown Washington, DC.
Photographs: Jim Bourg/Reuters

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US officials said, on condition of anonymity, the main reason the US government pulled out all the stops for Ficci's delegation was to show across-the-board support for India-US endeavours.

According to Jay Panda of the Biju Janata Dal, who led the delegation, the bilateral conversation across the political-economic spectrum included the immigration reform Bill being pursued by the Obama administration, which would likely hit India's top information technology companies such as Infosys and Wipro.

The two sides also discussed the US drawdown in Afghanistan and the ramped-up roles India and the US could play together in that country, as well as noting the change of guard in China and Pakistan.

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Image: Wipro campus in Bangalore.
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters

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However, the fact remains that both India and the US have several issues that they must sort out, including the not-so-fine matter of shiploads of basmati rice being returned because they contain a pesticide that doesn't find any mention in the US Food and Drug Administration laws.

It seems $100 million by several basmati manufacturers is at stake.

Coupled with the serious concerns over the possible banning of Indian IT companies in the US if they continue to employ more than 50 per cent foreign workers (mostly Indians, who come to the US on much cheaper salaries), both countries have a lot of work to do.


Image: Bags of basmati rice at a Costco store in Arlington, Virginia.
Photographs: Jim Young/Reuters

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