US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday voiced hope of finding common cause with new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hailing the nations’ ties as “indispensable,” despite recent friction.
Kerry, who headed to New Delhi yesterday in the highest-level US contact yet with the right-leaning government that took office in May, said he envisioned cooperation with Modi on issues ranging from promoting economic growth to fighting climate change.
A day after returning from a grueling trip in which he failed to end the bloody Gaza conflict, Kerry said that a close relationship with India was among the US’ “long-term strategic imperatives,” despite the “flashpoints that dominate the daily headlines.”
“The United States and India can and should be indispensable partners for the 21st century and that is, I assure you, the way we approach the Modi government,” said Kerry, whose tenure has been dominated by seeking peace in the Middle East.
“India’s new government has won an historic mandate to deliver change and reform and, together, we have a singular opportunity to help India to be able to meet that challenge,” Kerry said at the Center for American Progress, a think tank.
Modi led his Bharatiya Janata Party to the most sweeping victory in an Indian election in 30 years on promises to turbocharge an economy seen as sputtering below potential.
Kerry, who will be joined on his three-day visit by US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, said he would talk to India about linking with Southeast Asia’s dynamic economies to become “the heart of a more connected, prosperous region.”
Despite Kerry’s upbeat tone, the once-blossoming relationship between the world’s two largest democracies has seen hiccups in recent months.
It is Kerry’s first visit to India since US authorities in December last year arrested an Indian diplomat in New York on charges of mistreating her servant, enraging New Delhi, which retaliated against US personnel.
Modi was persona non grata in the US until his election campaign, with Washington in 2005 refusing him a visa over allegations that he turned a blind eye to anti-Muslim riots as the leader of the western state of Gujarat.
Modi was never charged with wrongdoing and, since it became clear he would win the election in the world’s second-most populous nation, Western governments have rushed to woo him.
Kerry, in what may have been an oblique mention of past concerns, said that the US and India both “have worked hard to overcome our own divisions” and “draw strength from pluralism.”
The top US diplomat praised Modi — who was hawkish while in opposition toward Pakistan due to concerns about Islamic extremists — for inviting Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration in New Delhi.
Kerry, a longtime advocate for stronger action against climate change, also hailed Modi for his push for a dramatic escalation of solar energy to combat India’s frequent blackouts.
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