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

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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 US five times since becoming prime minister in 2014 but his visit this week that runs until Saturday will be his first with the full diplomatic status of a state visit.

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It is also only the third state visit of Joe Biden’s presidency and the third by an Indian leader to the US, indicating the strengthening bond between Washington and New Delhi and the distance they have travelled since being on opposite sides of the Cold War.

Modi landed in New York on Tuesday afternoon, where he has business meetings and will mark the International Day of Yoga on Wednesday before heading to Washington. There he has a private dinner scheduled 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 will meet on Tuesday with Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, who would brief him on plans to set up a manufacturing base there, a source with direct knowledge of the arrangement told Reuters.

The US 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 against Beijing over issues such as Taiwan. Washington is also concerned about India’s unwillingness to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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

US lawmakers have 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 freedoms, internet access and the targeting of civil society groups.

Meeting Musk

Senior Tesla officials met India’s deputy minister for technology and other officials last month, signaling the electric vehicle manufacturer’s ambitious plans to establish a production base in India.

Tesla had discussions with the government about incentives being offered by India 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 India threatened to shut it down in India unless it complied with orders to restrict accounts critical of the handling of farmer protests, a charge Modi’s government called an “outright lie.”

There are differences 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 in an interview with the Wall Street Journal about critical comments in the US 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 US.”

“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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