It is in Prime Minister Narendra Modi Modi, officials in Washington believe, US President Barack Obama has found an Indian leader who is willing to walk the talk to realise the common goals of the two countries. Lalit K Jha reports
As United States President Barack Obama arrived at the White House after vacationing in picturesque Hawaii; it is South Asia -- India, Pakistan and Afghanistan -- that would be focus during the month in January on the foreign policy front.
In fact, both Obama and his top diplomat -- Secretary of State John Kerry -- would kick-off their foreign trips of the year with India, which officials said is reflective of the serious efforts made by the administration to not only strengthen India-US relationship but also to send a message to the countries of the region and other major international players too.
Preparations would begin in full swing this week, for Obama's India visit to attend the January 26 Republic Day Parade as chief guest. His visit would be preceded by Kerry's Ahmedabad visit to attend the Vibrant Gujarat Summit.
Thereafter Kerry is likely to travel to Pakistan for US-Pak strategic dialogue.
And sometime in February Obama would host the new Afghan leadership -- President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Dr Abdullah Abdullah -- at the White House.
A formal announcement of Kerry's trip to India and Pakistan and that of Afghan leadership to the US has not been made yet. But the three high-profile visits reflect the foreign policy priority of the US president as he enters the last two years of his presidency.
Under the US constitution, Obama who was first elected as the US president in 2008 and then re-elected in 2012, can not run for a third term.
Obama himself is looking forward to his second trip to India and before he left for his annual vacation had issued instruction to his officials to work on specific deliverables to realise the true potential of India-US strategic relationship in the 21st century.
The first non-white American president, Obama has accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend the Republic Day parade on January 26. He is the first US president to do so. He is also the first American president to visit India twice.
This is because; Obama believes that India -- an anchor of peace and stability in entire Asia-Pacific region -- has a major role to play in the global political scene in decades to come. It is the two largest democracies of the world, he believes, need to join hands together -- Chale saath saath -- to resolve some of the pressing problems of the world, be it addressing the issue of climate change or poverty elimination in Africa or developing a joint policy to eliminate the scour of terrorism from Afghanistan now that the US troops have ended their combat role in the country.
And it is in Modi, officials in Washington believe, Obama has found an Indian leader who is willing to walk the talk to realise the common goals of the two countries. It is the confidence in Modi's leadership that Obama quickly accepted the invitation to attend the Republic Day Parade given that it is the time of the year that is reserved for the US president to delivers his State of the Union Address to the Congress -- his most important speech of the year.
Kerry's visit to Ahmedabad and his expected meeting with Modi on the sidelines of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit is expected to prepare in a big way for the Obama-Modi summit in New Delhi later this month. Kerry himself is taking a personal interest on handling the issue of climate change with India.
Kerry, officials say, understands India's developmental needs and wants Modi to take a global lead in climate change -- which balances between development and climate change.
From Ahmedabad, Kerry is expected to fly to Pakistan for the next round of US-Pak strategic dialogue at the ministerial level, during which India, Afghanistan, Islamabad's counter-terrorism effort and continued safe haven in parts of the country is expected to figure predominantly in his talks with the top Pakistani leadership.
In November Kerry had met the Pakistani army chief. In Islamabad, among others he would be meeting the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Visiting Pakistan at the time of increased cross-border shelling, the top American leadership is likely ask the Pak leadership to give up its distinction between good and bad terrorist and impress upon them one more time on the urgency to take strong action against India-centric terrorist groups and organisations. He is expected to express concern over the developments in Pakistan over bail to Lashkar-e-Tayiba commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who played a key role in the Mumbai terror attacks.
Once Kerry returns from his first overseas trip in 2015 -- India and Pakistan -- the Obama administration would have less than two weeks to prepare for the historic Obama-Modi Summit. It is during that time that officials are likely to give a final shape to the deliverables for the India visit of the US president.