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'They respect each other as doers and not talkers'

By Aziz Haniffa
June 08, 2016 12:03 IST
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'You can see that at a personal level, they really connected.'
Aziz Haniffa/ reports from Washington, DC.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Barack Obama covered a wide array of discussions during their nearly three-hour interaction -- including their one-on-one in the Oval Office, the delegation-level meeting which they led, the press pool spray where they made brief remarks followed by the working luncheon -- and which saw the finalisation of several substantive agreements at their third working summit.

Foreign Secretary Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who was always by Modi's side, said the two leaders held a discussion on international and regional issues centring on "the situation east of India and west" of India.

Through it all, point out senior White House and State Department officials and Dr Jaishankar, who were in on the meetings, the effervescent bonhomie, personal rapport and undeniable respect for one another between Obama and Modi was once again evident in their interactions.

It was this congruency, buoyed by their leadership and unrelenting capacity to make things happen, led to the summit culminating in so many substantive agreements.

In separate briefings, these officials and Dr Jaishankar said that in two years, from the time Modi took over as prime minister, the camaraderie between the two leaders had taken the relationship to unprecedented and transformative levels and put it on such a solid footing, moving it to almost auto pilot on what hitherto seemed to be intractable issues.

"You can see that at a personal level, they really connected," a senior White House official said. "They respect one another and they respect each other as doers and not talkers. And each one has that characteristic and respects that in the other."

"Of course," the official added, "The relationship is more than a personal one -- it's about our countries, our global interests, and each shares a commitment to democracy, human rights, and pluralism and they talked about how we can work together to tackle problems on a global scale."

Dr Jaishankar recalled that at a briefing in New Delhi on the eve of Modi's visit to the US, he had predicted that it would be "to consolidate the relationship, which has really seen a big upswing in the last two years."

"And I can say with some confidence that we have achieved that objective, and today, a lot of the understandings and agreements reached really set a higher baseline to take the relationship forward."

"The good story of the relationship of the last two years really continues."

Even before the nearly three-hour interaction between Obama and Modi had ended, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, at his noon briefing, said, "I think what makes the relationship between Prime Minister Modi and President Obama so strong is the shared commitment that they have to warm relations between our two countries."

"Both leaders recognise that a strong relationship between the US and India benefits the economy, the national security and the people of the US and India," and added that he believed "this is what animates their relationship."

"One of the most important things that they talked about is the leadership and the partnership to get the Paris agreement (on climate change) signed last year," the senior administration official briefing journalists later said, "and the steps that are required to get it into a pact."

Dr Jaishankar agreed that climate change with related issues had permeated the gamut of issues that were discussed and in this regard, vis-a-vis clean energy, "One important development was progress made on the nuclear issue."

"We have addressed the nuclear liability issue and we are in a position to start the preparation work on a site in India for six Westinghouse reactors."

"It's still a work in progress," Dr Jaishankar acknowledged, "and we are having discussions as we speak with the US Ex-Im Bank for the financing package. But, overall, a very decisive step forward has been taken in this regard and this was welcomed by both leaders. The engineering and site design for these reactors will begin soon."

Westinghouse, the White House official said , was now in discussions with NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) for "culminations of contracts," and the liability issues with India had been resolved earlier this year when New Delhi signed the Convention of Supplementary Compensation.

India, Dr Jaishankar said, was "looking forward to the acceptance of our application to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group," and noted that "the US has been supportive of this process for some time and that was discussed at some length. We count on US support in that regard and the US was very positive in its approach on this issue."

Both sides also finalised an unprecedented cyber-security agreement, which the White House official said was "a first with any country."

"Significant time was also spent" Dr Jaishankar said, "with regard to the defence and security basket," and disclosed that "a notable development of the defence side was the willingness of the US to recognise India as a major defence partner."

India hoped, the foreign secretary said, to move to licence-free access to a wider range of these controlled items and consequently a framework for Make in India not just with regard to sales and collaboration, "but a framework that would allow for Make in India to happen on the defence side," with unconditional access.

"This," he said, "in a sense is the transition we are seeking and we believe the talks were a big step in that process."

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama greet each other warmly in the Oval Office, the White House, June 7, 2016. Photograph: MEA on Flickr

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