WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has announced that his country is backing India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

President Obama made the announcement at a news interval during his two-hour-long meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi at the White House on Tuesday.

“We discussed the progress we have made around civil nuclear energy, and I indicated our support for India becoming part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group,” Mr Obama said.

“We are grateful to the US for backing India’s NSG bid,” Mr Modi replied.

Mr Obama said he was supporting the application to “ensure these technologies that are critical for India’s development are available”. He said he also discussed nonproliferation of nuclear material and technology with the Indian leader and “I also mentioned the prime minister’s very effective participation in the Nuclear Security Summit.”

Prime Minister Modi spoke in Hindi, saying that India and the US were working together to curb global warming, fight terrorism, and to ensure nuclear security.

This was the seventh meeting between the two leaders and also Mr Modi’s fourth visit to Washington in two years.

The announcement came hours after a key anti-proliferation group, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), agreed to admit India, Indian diplomats told the journalists traveling with Mr Modi.

The deadline for the members of the 34-nation group to object to India’s admission expired on Monday.

At his 15-minute news interval before their working lunch, President Obama said they also discussed “important regional security issues” towards the end of the first hour and would continue discussing “security challenges and regional issues” during the lunch as well.

The two countries, he added, “shared vision of peace, democracy, resolving problems through diplomacy”.

“A key priority for both of us is how to promote economic prosperity and opportunity, and poverty alleviation for our people,” said Mr Obama who sat legs crossed as Mr Modi sat to his right.

“We continue to discuss a wide range of areas where we can cooperate more effectively in order to promote jobs, promote investment, promote trade, and promote greater opportunities for our people, particularly young people, in both of our countries,” he said, adding that they wanted to focus on regional security in South Asia.

Mr Modi said that India was a country with 800 million who were below the age of 35 years.

“The United States is well aware of the talent that India has,” he said, adding: “We and the United States can work together to bring forward this talent, and use it for the benefit of mankind and use it for the benefit of innovations and use it to achieve new progress.”

The Indian media reported that admission to the MTCR would open the way for India to buy high-end missile technology and state-of-the-art surveillance drones such as the US Predator.

India hopes that this nod of acceptance from the MTCR would also help its efforts to join the 48-nation NSG.

The group is meeting in Vienna, Austria, on Thursday to consider India’s membership application and other issues.

US Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin Rhodes told journalists in Washington on Monday that the US wanted India to join the NSG because it believed this would encourage the South Asian nation to become a ‘good’ nuclear state.

“We believe that through engagement with India and through engagement with groups like the NSG, we are in a better position to support India as a good citizen on these issues,” he said.

The United States not only supports India’s bid but is also lobbying China not to veto New Delhi’s application. US Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and US Trade Representative Michael Froman are all in Beijing this week and reports in the US and Indian media suggest that all three have urged China not to block India’s entry into the NSG. The group requires consensus of all members to add a new member.

Prime Minister Modi, who visited several countries this week, added Mexico and Switzerland to his itinerary because both had expressed reservations over India’s inclusion. On Monday, Switzerland announced its support for India.

Mr Rhodes expressed strong US support for India’s bid at an event at the Arms Control Association, a Washington think tank that had opposed India-US civil nuclear deal and is now opposing India’s membership to the NSG.

He said that Washington had invested significantly with India in enhancing nuclear security around the globe and would like to continue this effort. Bringing India into international processes would enhance the country’s security protocols, he added.

“And frankly, it takes place against continued conversations that we have with India about their approach to nuclear weapons; and of course, the support that we’ve always expressed for diplomatic efforts between India and Pakistan,” Mr Rhodes said.

Mr Modi is currently on a three-day US visit. On Wednesday, he would address a joint meeting of the US Congress.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2016