Ending a nine-year boycott, US Ambassador Nancy Powell today met Narendra Modi and said her country looks forward to working closely with the government India chooses after the Lok Sabha elections, an indication that it has no reservations of doing business with him if he becomes Prime Minister. "US-India partnership is important and strategic, and that the United States looks forward to working closely with the government that the Indian people choose in the upcoming elections," a statement quoting the envoy said after the nearly one-hour meeting.
Official sources said Powell praised the "good model" of governance in Gujarat which she felt could be taken to other parts of the world. They said the US envoy told Modi that there was an "excellent investment climate" in Gujarat which she was visiting after 20 years. Powell was quoted as saying that she was highly impressed with the progress the state has made over the last two decades.
The sources said Modi raised the issue of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade and was assured by her that the US was committed to speedy resolution of the matter. "This meeting was part of the US Mission's outreach to senior leaders of India's major political parties in advance of the upcoming national elections," the US statement said. "Her discussions focus on the importance of the US-India relationship, regional security issues, human rights, and American trade and investment in India," it said, adding, "The US and India are moving forward with a strategic partnership that is broad and deep."
Decks were cleared for an end to the boycott imposed in the aftermath of the 2002 post-Godhra riots when, in a sudden u-turn, the US Ambassador sought an appointment with the Gujarat Chief Minister which was granted. US had revoked Modi's visa in 2005 under a domestic law over "serious violations of religious freedom".
Describing the meeting as warm and cordial, the sources said all facets of Indo-US relations as also global issues came up for discussion during which Powell briefed Modi on G8, G20, WTO, counter-terrorism and security cooperation.
Modi raised the issue of the need for terrorists being brought to justice, the sources said.
In her talks with Modi, Powell also referred to Indo-US cooperation in Afghanistan including training of women in that country. She made a special mention of the Amul model of dairy development and animal husbandry in Gujarat and felt cooperation in this area could be extended to Afghanistan. It was for the first time in 13 years that an Ambassador-level officer travelled to the city to meet Modi, who greeted the delegation at his residence with flowers and warm handshake.
The External Affairs Ministry had briefed Modi on Indo-US relations prior to his meeting with Powell, the sources said. The US has insisted that its policy on granting visa to Modi has not changed.
A consular-level officer of the US consulate in Mumbai had met Modi after his visa was revoked, but later, as his stature grew in Indian politics, the Chief Minister had stopped giving time to junior officials. Powell's meeting with the BJP leader is widely being seen as acknowledgement of Modi's growing political clout.
Washington has also made it clear that it was not taking any position on the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Reiterating that the US does not take positions in elections of any country, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Powell's meeting Modi is not a reflection of the America taking a position. "We don't take positions. So no, it wouldn't be a reflection of that. It is just a reflection, as I've stated a few times, of us reaching out to a range of individuals from different backgrounds, different political affiliations, which we do in countries around the world," she had said.
In the last few years, several of America's European allies have met Modi. Though today's was the biggest US engagement with Modi in years, business delegations from the country had always been welcomed by the Gujarat administration and they participated in events like 'Vibrant Gujarat' summit.
Despite the visa ban, Modi has also reached out to the Indian diaspora in the US through video-conference.