Obama-Modi hotline becomes operational

NEW YORK • When United States President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugged and said their goodbyes in January after Mr Obama's state visit to India, the two leaders promised to keep in touch.

Mr Modi said he and Mr Obama "talk with ease on the phone", and the chemistry between them was indicative of the growing closeness between the two countries.

"We have decided to give this critical partnership a new thrust and sustained attention," Mr Modi said at the time.

Since world leaders are not inclined to maintain a friendship on Facebook or conduct top-level diplomatic communications via WhatsApp, the two countries established a hotline that just recently became operational, senior White House officials said last week.

"'Hotline' has the connotation of some crisis-management phone or system that was used during the Cold War to defuse crisis," Mr Peter Lavoy, senior director for South Asian affairs at the National Security Council, told the Press Trust of India. "That's not what we have."

He said: "This is a secure line between two very, very close partners so that they can exchange views at the heads-of-state level."

Mr Lavoy added that the two leaders would "coordinate approaches to solving real problems".

The hotline between Washington and New Delhi is the first such connection at the highest level of government for India, which is seeking to assert itself as a regional power. It also shares the US' goal of checking China's power in Asia. The US already maintains similar hotlines with China, Britain and Russia.

The hotline with India has not yet been used, according to the Obama administration, but it will be an open line between the President and Mr Modi, and between the country's national security advisers.

The White House would not comment on the frequency with which the other hotlines are used to communicate with leaders in London and Beijing, where ties with Washington have been strained by the cybertheft of US government data, China's aggressive territorial claims and, most recently, the revelation that Chinese agents are operating in the US.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2015, with the headline 'Obama-Modi hotline becomes operational'. Print Edition | Subscribe