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US lifts visa ban on Modi, Obama invites him to Washington

Updated May 18, 2014

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PM-elect Narendra Modi.  - File Photo
PM-elect Narendra Modi. - File Photo
US President Barack Obama. - File Photo
US President Barack Obama. - File Photo

WASHINGTON: The United States has lifted a decade-old visa ban on Narendra Modi while President Barack Obama invited India’s next prime minister to visit Washington.

“The prime minister of India will be welcomed to the United States. As head of government, Mr Modi would be eligible for an A-1 visa,” said US State Department’s spokesperson Jen Psaki when asked to explain Mr Modi’s visa status.

The United States distanced itself from Mr Modi after the 2002 riots in his state of Gujarat that killed more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims.

US officials refused to meet Mr Modi and in 2005, the United States denied him a visa after human rights groups accused him of not moving to halt the carnage.

But on Friday afternoon, President Obama telephoned Mr Modi, congratulated on his victory and invited him to visit Washington, at a mutually agreeable time to further strengthen our bilateral relationship,” the White House said.

President Obama told Mr Modi that he looks forward to cooperating closely to deepen the relationship between the US and the world’s largest democracy.

The US media interpreted this gesture as an attempt to “bury the hatchet with Mr Modi and repair ties between the US and India” that were strained by the arrest late last year of an Indian diplomat in New York.

Mr Modi was decisively elected India’s next leader in what the White House described as the largest free and fair election in human history, which concluded earlier this week.

The US media also noted that the Obama administration started mending ties with Mr Modi in February by dispatching the US ambassador and other top officials to meet him as his potential victory in the elections looked increasingly likely.

That reconciliation appeared to take a major step forward on Friday with the congratulatory call from Mr Obama. “Once the government is formed, we look forward to working closely with the prime minister and the cabinet to advance our strong bilateral relationship based on shared democratic values,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

US Secretary of State John Kerry sent his congratulations on Twitter, pledging to work with Mr Modi to promote shared prosperity and security.

“Once a new government is formed, we look forward to working closely with the Prime Minister and the cabinet to advance our strong bilateral partnership,” said the State Department in a separate message.

“We also congratulate the people of India on concluding their national elections and look forward to continuing our strong partnership based on shared values.” But the US-based Coalition Against Genocide, an umbrella group advocating justice and accountability, drew attention to the Gujarat riots and “pledged to continue its struggle with renewed fervour in the wake of the election results in India.”

CAG Spokesperson Raja Swamy referred to Mr Modi’s alleged links to the RSS and cautioned that “during this election campaign, RSS leaders have been openly raking up contentious issues, posing a threat to communal harmony and increasing the prospect of violence against minorities.”

On Saturday, President Obama also called outgoing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to “express his gratitude for Dr Singh’s tenure as Prime Minister and his critical role in transforming and deepening the US-India strategic partnership,” the White House said.

He noted that during Dr Singh’s tenure, cooperation between the United States and India on “global challenges” also increased.

President Obama conveyed “his appreciation for Dr Singh’s friendship,” noting that he looked forward to further expanding the strong relationship between the United States and India with Prime Minister-Elect Narendra Modi, the White House said.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2014