Barack Obama’s trip to India to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi bore fruit on two of Obama’s most cherished issues: nuclear trade and China. Meeting in the midst of India’s National Day festivities, the two leaders reached an agreement that had been in the works since the Bush Administration, allowing more trade of nuclear material. Reuters reports:
The two countries reached an understanding on two issues that, despite a groundbreaking 2006 agreement, had stopped U.S. companies from setting up reactors in India and had become one of the major irritants in bilateral relations.“We are committed to moving towards full implementation,” Obama told a joint news conference with Modi. “This is an important step that shows how we can work together to elevate our relationship.”The new deal resolved differences over the liability of suppliers to India in the event of a nuclear accident and U.S. demands on tracking the whereabouts of material supplied to the country, U.S. ambassador to India Richard Verma told reporters.“Ultimately it’s up to the companies to go forward, but the two governments came to an understanding,” he added.
On top of that, the two leaders also arranged a deal to strengthen non-nuclear defense ties.But the strategic alignment between the world’s two largest democracies is most apparent on issues surrounding China. The NYT reports:
Mr. Obama and his aides discovered to their surprise that Mr. Modi’s assessment of China’s rise and its impact on the greater strategic situation in East Asia was closely aligned with their own. Just as they did, Mr. Modi seemed increasingly uneasy about China’s efforts to extend its influence around the region and interested in a united approach to counter them.
He agreed to sign a joint statement with Mr. Obama chiding Beijing for provoking conflict with neighbors over control of the South China Sea. He suggested reviving a loose security network involving the United States, India, Japan and Australia. And he expressed interest in playing a greater role in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, where India could help balance China’s influence.
The strategic alignment and diplomatic warmth don’t exactly constitute an about-face—India and the U.S. have both worried about regional maritime security, for example, for some time—but India has previously been reticent about taking a firm public stand and working with the U.S. on countering China.
That the U.S.-India relationship is getting both stronger and more out in the open is a sign that India’s foreign policy is taking a new tack under Modi. And the nuclear deal in particular, a project George Bush kicked off on a state visit to India in 2006, is also a real victory for an important U.S. policy spanning two administrations.