Modi visits US to deepen ties, says no doubting India’s position on Ukraine

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Modi visits US to deepen ties, says no doubting India's position on Ukraine © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden holds a virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss Russia’s war with Ukraine from the White House in Washington U.S., April 11, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque//File Photo

By Hussein Waaile, YP Rajesh and Tanvi Mehta

NEW YORK/NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the United States on Tuesday for a state visit that has been projected as a milestone in ties between the two countries that would deepen and diversify their partnership.

Modi has been to the U.S. five times since becoming prime minister in 2014, but his visit until Saturday will be his first with the full diplomatic status of a state visit.

It also marks only the third state visit of Joe Biden’s presidency and the third by an Indian leader to the U.S., a sign of the strengthening bond between Washington and New Delhi and the distance they have traveled since being on opposite sides of the Cold War.

Modi landed on Tuesday afternoon in New York, where he has business meetings and will mark International Day of Yoga on Wednesday before heading to Washington. There he has a private dinner with Biden on Wednesday, followed by talks at the White House and a state dinner on Thursday.

The visit is expected to see the two countries expand cooperation in the defense industry and high-tech sectors, with India getting access to critical American technologies that Washington rarely shares with non-allies.

“This special invitation is a reflection of the vigor and vitality of the partnership between our democracies,” Modi said in a statement before departure.

“I will also meet some of the leading CEOs to discuss opportunities for elevating our trade and investment relationship and for building resilient global supply chains.”

Modi met on Tuesday with Tesla (NASDAQ:) Chief Executive Elon Musk, who was to brief him on plans to set up an electric vehicle manufacturing base in India, a source with direct knowledge of the arrangement told Reuters.

“It was excellent and a very good conversation,” Musk said after meeting Modi, adding he planned to visit India next year.

“I am confident Tesla will be in India and will do so as soon as humanly possible,” Musk said when asked by reporters about a timeline.

Tesla has had discussions with the Indian government about incentives for car and battery manufacturing and proposed establishing a factory in India to build electric vehicles, Reuters reported in May.

Musk is also the executive chairman of Twitter, which has had run-ins with Modi’s government.

Last week, Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey said New Delhi threatened to shut it down in India unless the social network complied with orders to restrict accounts critical of the handling of farmer protests, a charge Modi’s government called an “outright lie”.

VITAL PARTNER

The U.S. sees India as a vital partner in its efforts to push back against China’s expanding influence worldwide, although some analysts question India’s willingness to stand up collectively to Beijing over issues such as Taiwan. Washington is also concerned about India’s unwillingness to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

U.S. officials nevertheless see a stronger India that can defend its own interests and contribute to regional security in the Indo-Pacific as good for the United States.

U.S. lawmakers invited Modi to address a joint meeting of Congress. It will be Modi’s second such address, a rare honor for a leader once denied a visa to enter the United States over human rights concerns.

Dozens of Biden’s fellow Democrats on Tuesday urged him to raise human rights with Modi. The lawmakers said they were concerned about religious intolerance, press freedom, internet access and the targeting of civil society groups.

Differences persist between Washington and New Delhi over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. India has not condemned Russia and urged both sides to resolve their differences through diplomacy.

India remains dependent on old friend Moscow for its defense needs and has sharply increased its imports of cheap Russian oil, frustrating the West.

Asked by the Wall Street Journal about U.S. criticism of India for not taking a more forceful stance against Russia over Ukraine, Modi said: “I don’t think this type of perception is widespread in the U.S.”

“I think India’s position is well known and well understood in the entire world. The world has full confidence that India’s top-most priority is peace,” he said in the interview published on Tuesday.

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