After denying him visa for years, the US on Friday extended a Presidential invitation, delivered in person by US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, inviting him to visit Washington in September.
Burns handed Modi a letter by US President Barack Obama, in which he expressed a wish to work closely with new Indian prime minister to make India-US relations a defining partnership for the 21st Century.
A PMO statement said the Prime Minister thanked President Obama for the invitation and looked forward to a result-oriented visit with concrete outcomes that imparts new momentum and energy to India-US strategic partnership. Modi was of the view that re-energising the partnership between India and the United States would send an important message to the region and beyond.
Burns, who had met external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday, said it was frustrating for both India and the US that the nuclear deal signed in July 2005 has still not taken off yet. He described India's Liability Legislation (on nuclear suppliers) an impediment and an area of concern for the US.
The law aims to provide a civil liability for nuclear damage and prompt compensation to the victims of a nuclear incident through a no-fault liability to the operator. It also caps the maximum amount of liability in case of each nuclear accident at Rs 5 billion ($84 million) to be paid by the operator of the nuclear plant, and if the cost of the damages exceeds this amount, the Central government has to pay upto Rs 300 million.
Burns said a meeting between Modi and Obama would be a "valuable opportunity" to renew the strategic partnership and spur trade between the two countries. He said though trade between the two countries had reached nearly $100 billion a year, it is far from the potential. The top US official visited India a week after revelations that the US agency NSA had been spying on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) now in power in India. The government had protested when the revelations came to light, and even summoned a senior diplomat to lodge the protest.
When confronted with the question, Burns said he discussed these issues "professionally", and both countries were discussing it through diplomatic channels. "We understand the concerns that have been raised and we'll deal with them professionally. But we also want to look ahead," he said, adding, "he was not at liberty to say more in public". Describing Modi as an impressive man, the US official said the controversy over his visa "is a thing of the past".
In May this year, Obama was one of the first few global leaders to call Modi after he won a massive mandate in the 2014 general election. It was the first high-level contact between Modi and the US leadership ever since Washington denied the former a visa in 2005, citing the 2002 Gujarat riots; Modi was Gujarat chief minister at the time.
Ahead of the high-profile visit, US Secretary of State John Kerry is also expected to visit Delhi for a strategic dialogue. Defence secretary Chuk Hagel is also expected to visit later this year to seek opportunities in defence cooperation.