US Welcomes Indian Prime Minister-elect Modi’ SAARC Inauguration Diplomacy

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Washington, DC – The United States this week welcomed the unprecedented diplomatic move by the newly elected Indian Prime Minister Naarendra Modi to invite the heads of the governments of all eight SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) member countries, including Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to attend his swearing-in ceremony on Monday (May 26).

At the daily press briefing, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokesperson told journalists, “Well, broadly speaking, we welcome increased engagement between India and Pakistan and their leaders and other, of course, leaders in the region, and India’s engagement with its neighbors leading up to the inauguration.”

On the invitation to Pakistan from the prime minister-elect, Psaki said the US would like to follow the wait and watch policy. “We believe increased engagement between India and Pakistan is a positive step, so we’ll see what happens.”

The US didn’t want to get involved in the bilateral relationship between two nuclear powers as Psaki said, “I don’t think we’re going to get into that level of engagement, but certainly, the invitation has been issued, we support increased dialogue, and this is representative of that.”

Most of the political pundits see economic policies of Modi getting to a flying start from the move to invite regional leaders.

Neelam Deo, director at Gateway House and former ambassador, said, “Narendra Modi’s invitation to leaders of South Asian countries to attend his swearing-in ceremony signals that good relations with neighbors and other Asian countries will be the basis of India’s economic thrust in the near future… Given his well-known economic inclinations, it will be most productive to start with regional trade relations in order to circumvent the challenges of old bilateral ties.”

“It will be fitting if Modi’s first foreign visit, even before the crucial BRICS summit scheduled for July 2014 in Brazil, is to one of the neighboring countries,” said Deo, but cautioned, “However, the friendly gesture does not mean that terrorism emanating from Pakistan can be overlooked, or that the water sharing agreement between India and Bangladesh will become less complex.”

Earlier President Barack Obama called Prime Minister-elect Modi and extended an invitation to visit the US. The White House spokesman, Jay Carney said, “We await the formation of a government, and we absolutely look forward to continuing all the progress that we have made in our bilateral relationship, and fully expect to be able to do so.”

Asked to comment if there was an invitation to the US for the swearing-in ceremony, Psaki said, “We don’t have any plans to send a representative from the United States. It’s standard for events and inaugurations in India, so it should come as no surprise.”

Ambassador Frank G. Wisner, a veteran US diplomat and former ambassador to India, told India America Today, “The US – Indian relationship is of the utmost importance to both countries. It is essential our two leaders get off to a strong start and not look back. President Obama has called to extend good wishes to Narendra Modi,” noting, “I am persuaded the latter will reciprocate. Too much is at stake.”

The hiccup is the decade old pariah status meted out to Modi, post Gujarat riots in 2002, when in 2005 the US State Department used domestic laws to scrap Modi’s visa saying that the Gujarat chief minister was, “responsible for the (lack of) performance of state institutions” during the communal riots in his state.

The allegations, which were never nodded along by any domestic court or other investigating bodies in India, stated that Modi turned a blind eye to the riots, that killed hundreds of people, mostly Muslims. Over the years, Modi has denied any wrongdoing and an Indian Supreme Court monitored investigation cleared him of any charges of complicity.

Kirit Desai, a political observer based on the East Coast near Philadelphia was not very optimistic about an early Modi visit to the US but expected the relationship to grow on equal footing if Washington treaded carefully. “As far as his visit, it probably won’t happen so soon. US needs to tread carefully in order to correct the blunder on political correctness in the past. Less they say, better it is because it will be the first order irritant left for them to resolve without making more mistakes.”

“If US remains honest & sincere in business dealings & correctly iron out all irritants in relationship, he would become a worthy and durable partner. He is certainly not a guest who can be placated with lavish dinners, but he would surely engage the host in meaningful relationship in no time over short conversation,” added Desai.

Somanjana Chatterjee from the West Coast and a keen political analyst said, “Narendra Modi would want to rise beyond the hackneyed perception of misguided foreign media and take the path that works best for India as a nation. With President Obama calling to congratulate him personally, we are looking at the India-America relationship in a new light at present.”

Chatterjee felt the time to move on was now saying, “About the Gujarat riot in 2002: It was an immense tragedy for both Hindu and Muslim communities as both lost lives, family, children and good will. The hate-mongers from both sects have been fighting for ages. However, under Modi’s capable leadership the Hindu-Muslim tussle has been eradicated in the last 12 years. Both the communities profoundly supported him in this election.”

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