Indian PM to visit White House on Sept 29-30

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was for years barred from visiting the United States, will meet President Barack Obama at the White House on September 29-30, US officials said Monday.

The meeting will mark Modi's first visit to Washington since his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to a crushing victory in May's elections.

Modi was told in 2005 by the previous administration of president George W. Bush that he would be refused a visa to visit the United States after being accused of not intervening to stop riots by Hindu extremists against minority Muslims when he was chief minister of Gujarat state.

But when it became clear last year that he was positioned to become India's next prime minister, the current White House, which sees India as a key pivot in its policy of rebalancing diplomatic power towards Asia, signalled that Modi would have no problem setting foot on US soil.

"The two leaders will discuss a range of issues of mutual interest in order to expand and deepen the US-India strategic partnership," said a White House statement. "They will discuss ways to accelerate economic growth, bolster security cooperation, and collaborate in activities that bring long-term benefits to both countries and the world.

"They will also focus on regional issues, including current developments in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, where India and the United States can work together with partners towards a positive outcome.

"The president looks forward to working with the prime minister to fulfil the promise of the US-India strategic partnership for the benefit of both our citizens and the world."

Washington has wasted no time in trying to court Modi, who was seen as less keen to engage the United States than his predecessor Manmohan Singh, a bookish academic who had a close relationship with Obama.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel have already travelled to India to meet the new prime minister.

Though Washington sees rising India as a democratic counterweight to the region's other emerging power, China, things have not gone completely smoothly.

Kerry rebuked Modi over India's refusal to ratify an important WTO trade deal on streamlining customs procedures and boost global commerce.

India argued that the pact's market opening requirements could prejudice its efforts to lift up its poorest citizens.

The United States has tried to restore the warmth in relations with India, after a series of spats, including a crisis in December when US authorities arrested an Indian diplomat in New York for allegedly mistreating her housekeeper, infuriating New Delhi.