US Cabinet ministers to woo India's Modi

The United States said Wednesday that top Cabinet members will visit India in coming weeks to break the ice with Prime Minister Narendra Modi (above) who was once shunned by Washington. -- PHOTO: AFP
The United States said Wednesday that top Cabinet members will visit India in coming weeks to break the ice with Prime Minister Narendra Modi (above) who was once shunned by Washington. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States said Wednesday that top Cabinet members will visit India in coming weeks to break the ice with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was once shunned by Washington.

Secretary of State John Kerry will visit on July 31 and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel will travel to India in early August, culminating in Mr Modi's previously announced visit to Washington in September, officials told a Senate committee.

"We are confident we can work in a strong and collaborative partnership with the Modi government to grow our economic and strategic relations with India," said assistant secretary of state for South Asia Nisha Biswal.

Mr Modi was once persona non grata in the United States, due to allegations that he turned a blind eye to anti-Muslim riots that swept Gujarat in 2002 when he was leader of the western state. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The United States has rushed to make up for lost time since it became clear that Mr Modi would cruise to victory in elections held in April and May. His Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party swept to India's biggest electoral mandate in three decades.

Mr Kerry will take part in annual US-India strategic talks, while Pentagon official Amy Searight said that Mr Hagel would seek greater military trade and cooperation with the Modi government.

Mr Modi has largely shown himself to be a pragmatist on foreign policy. He has already met with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chinese President Xi Jinping, despite his suspicions about the neighbouring countries voiced before his election.

Mr Modi did not reveal any lingering bitterness over his treatment by the United States when accepting President Barack Obama's invitation to the White House, calling in a statement for stronger US-India relations.

But Ms Searight - responding to questions from Senator John McCain, a frequent critic of Mr Obama who met Mr Modi earlier this month - acknowledged that India has voiced concern about Afghanistan, where the United States is preparing to withdraw troops.

"I am aware that they have strong concerns" about Afghanistan, Ms Searight said.

She praised New Delhi for its development assistance to Afghanistan, whose former Taleban regime sheltered vehemently anti-US and anti-Indian groups.