WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama on Tuesday hailed the “energy” and “determination” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, flexing the symbolism of his office to court the affections of the new Indian government.
Modi meanwhile told Obama that he hoped for an agreement “soon” to free up a major global trade facilitation agreement, blocked by the government in New Delhi over concerns its food subsidies to the poor could face legal challenges.
The United States sees its relationship with India as crucial to Obama’s strategy of rebalancing US diplomatic weight towards Asia and believes that the world’s oldest democracy, and its largest, are natural partners.
Yet several spats have disrupted ties in recent months and there have been doubts expressed over whether Modi shares Washington’s hopes for the relationship.
Modi and Obama first met at a private dinner for their delegations in the ornate Blue Room of the White House late on Monday, after the Indian leader arrived in Washington fresh from a triumphant welcome from the Indian diaspora in New York.
White House chefs served up crisp halibut in ginger carrot sauce, though Modi had given advance notice he would not eat as he is in the middle of an annual religious fast.
On Tuesday, Modi rode in a black sports utility vehicle, with US and Indian flags flying from the fenders, up to the West Wing of the White House through a US military colour guard.
Modi’s warm welcome struck a sharp contrast to his previous treatment by Washington, which refused him a visa in 2005 on human rights grounds over anti-Muslim riots in his home state of Gujarat.
Modi denies wrongdoing and was never charged over the violence that killed more than 1,000 people.
Both sides used his debut visit as Indian leader to stress togetherness and common goals: Obama and Modi wrote a joint article for the Washington Post on Tuesday and traveled together after their talks to pay homage at a memorial to civil rights leader Martin Luther King in Washington.