Manmohan Singh’s U.S. Visit
September 24, 2013
Q1: Prime Minister Singh will visit the United States this week. What’s his schedule and who will he see?
A1: Prime Minister Singh will be in the United States from September 25-30. This marks his second official U.S. visit during President Obama’s tenure. Singh will meet with President Obama on September 27 at the White House and then head to New York, where he will address the UN General Assembly on September 28. The PM’s speech at the UN is expected to focus on terrorism, disarmament, UN reforms, and development. Singh is also expected to meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the General Assembly. Both have expressed a desire to improve relations between their two countries, but recent clashes along the Line of Control, which separates the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled portions of Kashmir, are, once again, slowing this process down.
Q2: When did the last substantial meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Singh take place, and what were some of the key takeaways?
A2: In November 2011, on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit in Bali, Indonesia. India’s controversial nuclear liability law, which holds suppliers accountable in the event of a nuclear accident, was a big part of the conversation at the time. Prime Minister Singh had then proposed the formation of a joint working group to address and allay U.S. concerns about the law in hopes of moving toward the full implementation of the landmark U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement. The two leaders also discussed ways to work together on maritime security issues, to advance the economic relationship, and to enlarge India’s role in multilateral arrangements.
Q3: What issues are expected to be discussed between the two leaders on September 27?
A3: The meeting is likely to focus on economic issues and key sticking points in the economic relationship. India faces a declining rupee, a widening Current Account Deficit (CAD), and slowing growth. The Prime Minister will highlight the adverse impact of potential monetary expansion by the U.S. Federal Reserve on India, and play up recent decisions taken by his government to ease norms for foreign investment in the multi-brand retail, aviation, telecommunication and defense sectors. The Prime Minister will also express concerns about provisions of U.S immigration reform legislation, which could stop Indian tech companies from bringing high-skilled Indian workers into the United States. President Obama, for his part, is likely to relay the various concerns of the U.S. business community: restrictive procurement rules, protectionist trade barriers, onerous regulations and obstacles faced by U.S. businesses operating in the country, and inadequate protection of intellectual property rights. Other issues that will be discussed include the uncertainties surrounding India’s investment climate, the ongoing challenges posed by India’s nuclear liability law, and closer cooperation in Afghanistan.
Q4: Will this meeting inject some much-needed momentum into the U.S.-India relationship?
A4: Probably not, although it will serve to highlight the fact that high-level exchanges have become routine in the U.S. – India relationship (Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry were both in Delhi this past summer). The fact remains that India is in pre-election mode, and as in all democracies, domestic and local-level issues will dominate the political discourse until national elections are completed (they have to be held by May 2014). The “average” Indian voter is more concerned about rising food and electricity costs than about foreign investor concerns, and therefore political populism will take precedence over any deepening of ties with the U.S. in the short-term. What both leaders are likely to do is reaffirm their commitment to the relationship and highlight the progress that has been made, while also acknowledging that it remains far below its full potential. In short, this particular meeting is unlikely to produce any major new initiative although there may be some movement on the civilian nuclear front and on defense trade, including an agreement to proceed with co-production of defense items.
Ambassador Karl Inderfurth holds the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), headquartered in Washington DC . Persis Khambatta is a fellow with the Wadhwani Chair.
Samir Nair and Vineeth Murthy, researchers with the Wadhwani Chair, also contributed to this Critical Questions.
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