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'Address to US Congress big opportunity for Modi'

May 05, 2016 10:39 IST

'This is going to be an opportunity to hear from the prime minister of the new India and the progress made in the last two years of the growing cooperation between the US and India in several areas, including areas that would have seemed implausible a few years ago.'
US Congressman Ed Royce, who led the campaign to have Prime Minister Modi address a joint session of Congress, speaks to Aziz Haniffa/Rediff.com in an exclusive interview.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addresses a joint session of the United States Congress, July 19, 2005.

IMAGE: The last time an Indian prime minister addressed a joint session of the United States Congress, July 19, 2005. Photograph: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

 

United States Congressman Ed Royce, California Republican and chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, who was the driving force behind urging Speaker Paul Ryan to invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address a joint session of Congress on June 8, has predicted that this will give Modi an unprecedented forum -- the likes of which were absent during his previous visits to the US -- to speak to all of America about the new and emerging India.

In an exclusive interview with Rediff.com, Royce said, "This address will serve as a sign of the deep and extremely important and strategic relationship between the United States and India -- a relationship that has to be further strengthened and the bonds of friendship between our peoples further enhanced."

"It is also an opportunity to remind our countrymen here in the United States, remind all Americans that our partnership in defense, in nuclear power, and in renewable energy and space exploration, as well as growing counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing cooperation to counter the continuing threat in the region that impacts both of our countries, is very strong thanks to our shared values," Royce, who co-chaired the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans -- the largest country-specific Caucus in the US Congress -- on at least three occasions, said.

"I know these are themes the prime minister will probably address," he added.

Royce acknowledged for him personally it was a sense of fulfillment and immense joy that Speaker Paul Ryan had acquiesced to his request and invited the prime minister, because two years ago, when he was the driving force behind such a request to then Speaker John Boehner, when Modi visited Washington, DC for his summit with President Obama, it did not come to pass "because we were not in session."

"But I did go up to New York and meet with the prime minister there and sat next to him during the dinner (hosted by then Indian ambassador to the US, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who is now India's foreign secretary). But I knew there would be another occasion and so this is the opportunity."

Nailing it down this time around, Royce said, was "a tremendous sense of fulfillment. I had a number of conversations with the Speaker, but I also know for my colleagues here, this is going to be an opportunity to hear from the prime minister of the new India and the progress made in the last two years during his tenure and the growing cooperation and collaboration between the US and India in several areas, including areas that would have seemed implausible a few years ago."

Asked specifically what he and his Congressional colleagues would like the prime minister to address, Royce replied, "I look forward to hearing from Prime Minister Modi about how we can continue to working together to promote peace and prosperity."

"This will be an unprecedented opportunity not only for my colleagues to hear from him, but for the entire country."

"It has been more than 10 years since an Indian prime minister has been afforded an opportunity to address Congress," Royce pointed out, "and as our countries move even closer, Prime Minister Modi's trip in June would offer the perfect time to hear how we can move our partnership forward."

Royce reiterated that he expects Modi will address "the stability effect as two great democracies that India and the United States have on the world. I believe that theme is extremely important."

US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar tour the INS Vikramaditya at the Indian Naval Station Karwar.

IMAGE: US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar tour the INS Vikramaditya at the Indian Naval Station Karwar. Photograph: Senior Master Sergeant Adrian Cadiz/AshCarter/Flickr

 

"The United States and India have strong defence ties, which has seen remarkable growth," Royce noted, and recalled, "Ten years ago, defence trade between the United States and India was virtually non-existent. Today, US-India defence trade has strengthened India's role as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean region."

"You and I remember when we had these conversations with (then) Secretary of State (Colin) Powell and Powell said, 'India has the capacity to keep the peace in the vast Indian Ocean and beyond.'

"Now, India's Air Force used American manufactured C-130s and C-17 aircraft to evacuate Indian and third country nationals from Yemen and also to speed relief supplies to Nepal after the devastating April 2015 earthquake," Royce said.

"Also, in terms of space exploration, when we look at the number of joint efforts here and Indian engineers who are studying in the United States and involved in the space programme, this partnership is particularly exciting -- it is moving forward at a rapid rate," the Congress man added.

"Also, things like renewable energy, and you remember the concept the prime minister has of cleaning up the Ganges river, we are going to be able to move forward on cooperative endeavours."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Barack Obama at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, March 31, 2016. Photograph: @MEAphotogallery/Flickr

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Barack Obama at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, March 31, 2016. Photograph: @MEAphotogallery/Flickr

 

"I am the co-chairman and co-founder of our Conservation Caucus and I've had conversations also with the prime minister on this issue. I know it's very close to his heart -- and I know, it's an issue that the United States and India can collaborate on," Royce said.

"I strongly believe, offering the theme of strong democratic cooperation -- India's in a tough neighbourhood and India represents, like the United States, a country that represents the values of individual freedom, individual liberty," Royce declared.

"And, increasingly, with the economic liberalisation that we see in India and more and more prosperity, these are all basically future win-win scenarios with respect to trade and investment between the United States and India."

"I see the address of the prime minister as yet another opportunity to make our partnership even deeper," Royce added.

Asked to explain the background as to how the invitation came about and if he had information if Modi is coming on a State visit and if he zeroed in on the opportunity to get in touch with the Prime Minister's Office and see if its convenient for him to address a joint session of Congress while in Washington, DC, June 7-8, Royrce said, "I had spoken in the past, not only to the prime minister extending that invitation, but on his recent visit (On March 31, Modi attended the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC) we addressed it as well."

"So, I am delighted that the opportunity is right -- this is the perfect time to have this dialogue with the United States Congress and with the American people that is best done by an address to the joint Senate and House. So, as you can imagine, I am very excited about the timing of the address."

"I believe this is a critical time for democracies that share our mutual commitment and to freedom, and to human rights and to stability in the world," Royce reiterated, "to have the connectivity with the US and the US Congress."

When pressed if this address to the joint session of Congress is part of a State visit Royce revealed, "No, this is specifically a trip to address a joint session of the Senate and House."

"This was an offer I originally extended and then spoke to the Speaker and the Speaker formally extended this invitation to the prime minister and the prime minister has accepted."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC