The India-US contact group, entrusted with making the nuclear liability law more palatable to the Americans, extended its discussions in London by a day today. It is the third meeting of the group in the last 45-days as it races against time to break the deadlock by the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama sit down for talks in New Delhi on Sunday.
The contact group was set up by Obama and Modi during their meetings in Washington D.C. in end-September. It has met in Delhi and Vienna to untangle the liability law that has impeded the operationalisation of the India-US civil nuclear agreement. Indian officials said the contact group was trying to find “within the four walls of the nuclear liability law” the “assurances” India can give to its partners in the US, through their vendors and lawyers. The law, in case of an accident, holds not just the operator but also the supplier of equipment liable.
The progress of discussions in London seemed to give confidence to Indian officials in New Delhi that the three day state visit of the US President to India will be more than about symbolism – Obama being the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade, and along with wife Michelle visiting Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Their daughters, Sasha and Malia, will skip their India as their school is on.
“We expect substantive outcomes,” Syed Akbaruddin, the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said today. He said the details will be made available after the discussions at Hyderabad House on Sunday, but threw in a caveat that India-US relations shouldn’t be weighed on the scales of number of agreements and MoUs (Memorandum of Understanding) inked.
Indian officials said Obama’s visit was the “culmination of a qualitative reinvigoration” of India-US ties after Modi met Obama in Washington in end-September. “Since then, both sides have acted with alacrity and collaborated in common pursuits and have traversed along a transformative path,” Akbaruddin said. He detailed the hectic pace of consultations on all aspects of India-US relations since October.
Indian officials termed the relationship “unparalleled in its breadth”, and that New Delhi saw “a vast potential for growth in the relationship”. The US, they said, was a key partner for capital technology, knowledge and skills, important source of clean energy technology and hydrocarbons. New Delhi considers Washington an important partner in defence technology; counter terrorism, space and cyber security and a key interlocutor in India’s ambitions to be part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and reforms of multilateral political and economic forums like the UN Security Council, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
“It is our partner in our efforts to seek peace and stability in our extended neighbourhood,” Akbaruddin said, indicating more robust India-US cooperation in Afghanistan. Modi – Obama discussions will focus on all of these issues. On the progress in discussions on the Bilateral Investment Treaty, Joint Secretary (Americas) Vinay Mohan Kwatra said that a “standard draft review” was taking place, suggesting the likelihood of it being signed during the Obama visit to be remote.
India – US ties had nose-dived in the last two years of the United Progressive Alliance government. The strip search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade had further damaged relations in end-2013.
Indian officials today claimed India-US relations stand “reinvigorated” after Modi and Obama meeting in end-September 2014 in Washington. As a measure of this, Indian and US officials have held several meetings since then:
Nine “strategic dialogue” level meetings
In addition, eight meetings on defence and security – to discuss cyber security, border management, counter-IED (or improvised explosive devices), defence technologies, trade initiatives and global entry programme
Three meetings to discuss economic and commercial relations – on smart cities, financial regulation, etc
Three meetings on science and technology – vaccination programme, research and collaboration on monsoon
10 Memorandums of Understanding signed – skill development, urban development, space, renewable energy, etc
Three meetings in Delhi, Vienna and the ongoing meeting in London in last 45-days to discuss the nuclear liability issue, London meeting extended by a day to reach an agreement by the time Obama-Modi meet on Sunday
President Barack Obama, accompanied by US First Lady Michelle and senior officials, will land in New Delhi at 10 am on Sunday. Their daughters, however, will skip their three day India visit as their school is on.
US President Barack Obama’s itinerary
Morning: President Obama lands in Delhi at 10am. Power and Coal minister Piyush Goyal is the minister in waiting for the Obama visit, and will receive the US President at the airport.
He will be accorded the ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt, and visit Rajghat to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi.
Afternoon: Bilateral discussions with Prime Minister Modi at Hyderabad House
This will be followed by a lunch that PM Modi will host for Obama and his delegation.
Evening: the US President will call on President Pranab Mukherjee at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. President will host a banquet for the Obamas and their delegation.
Morning: Obama will be the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade
Afternoon: the Obamas will attend the ‘At Home’ reception of the President at Rashtrapati Bhavan
Evening: Obama and Modi PM and Prez will address business events
Morning: will address a select gathering at New Delhi’s Siri Fort Auditorium on ‘India and America: the Future We Can Build Together’
Obama and Modi will jointly record ‘Mann ki Baat’
Afternoon: The Obamas will visit the Taj Mahal in Agra
Evening: Departure from Delhi