By Jameel Khan, David Sterman
January 26, 2015
U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday announced a landmark nuclear deal amid Obama’s historic three-day visit to New Delhi, where expectations have been high for a revival of bilateral relations between the world’s largest democracies (BBC, VOA News, White House, Times of India, Post). “Today we achieved a breakthrough understanding on two issues that were holding up our ability to advance our civil nuclear cooperation,” Obama said on Sunday at a joint conference with Modi in New Delhi. “And we are committed to moving towards full implementation,” he said (Post). Replying in English, Modi said, “I am pleased that six years after we signed our bilateral agreement, we are moving toward commercial cooperation consistent with our law, our international legal obligations, and technical and commercial viability.” The deal makes it easier for U.S. and foreign firms to invest in India’s nuclear industry (Post).
Other milestones include a renewal of the 10-year Defense Framework Agreement in which both countries will agree to joint development and production of defense systems; an expressed commitment to reducing carbon emissions and a “strong climate change agreement” in Paris later this year; and a host of other bilateral efforts which both countries detailed in a joint statement released on Sunday (DNA News, White House). On Monday, Obama will join Modi to attend India’s 66th Republic Day Parade, where he will become the first U.S. president to attend the occasion. Obama is also expected to join Modi for meetings on Monday at the U.S.-India CEO Forum, where they will discuss trade, investment, and visa issues with India’s leading business leaders (NDTV). Despite the trip’s grand nature, not all was smooth. Obama’s trip was cut short by the White House’s decision for him to travel on Tuesday to Saudi Arabia, where he will pay his condolences to the late King Abdullah and meet the new monarch (Guardian). On policy specifics, India and the United States fell short of a China-like climate change deal to specify goals on cutting carbon emissions (Times of India). And on stage presence, Obama was caught chewing gum during the Republic Day Parade according to media reports (Times of India). The recent revival of ties follows a year of strained relations after the 2013 arrest of senior Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York. Commenting on better relations today, Obama said, “the United States and India have declared a new declaration of friendship that elevates and formalizes our partnership” (Post). Deplaning Air Force One, Obama and Modi on Sunday greeted each other on the tarmac with hugs and handshakes.
China’s official state-run news agency Xinhua in a commentary report on Sunday said that U.S. President Barack Obama’s “shortened three-day [India] visit is more symbolic than pragmatic, given the long-standing division between the two giants, which may be as huge as the distance between them” (Hindustan Times, Xinhua). While acknowledging the apparent “closeness between the two countries,” the report pointed out past quarrels and a “superficial rapprochement” amid the warming ties, saying: “After all, only one year ago, U.S. diplomats were expelled from New Delhi amid widespread public outrage over the treatment of an Indian diplomat in New York and Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister and then chief minister of Gujarat, was still banned from entering the United States” (Xinhua). Liking Obama’s trip to a needed foreign policy win to report progress back to the U.S. Congress, the report also said the bilateral meetings would not see agreement on the pressing issue of climate change — a priority of the Obama administration — saying that “India is heavily dependent on coal-fueled plants” and that “economic growth and eradication of poverty is more urgent for Indian officials than cutting carbon emissions” (Xinhua).
Across India’s border, Pakistan on Sunday sent its Army Chief Raheel Sharif to Beijing on a two-day visit to meet senior Chinese military officials to discuss defense and security issues (India Today, Zee News). Sharif’s trip comes amid recent pressure from India and the United States to reign in extremism within its borders. Meeting with defense counterpart General Qi Jianguo and General Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission (CMC), the bilateral talks touched on a range of regional security issues including long-term defense collaboration, counterterrorism cooperation, intelligence sharing and training exchanges. Infiltration by Uygur militants in China’s restive Xinjiang region remains a shared security concern between the two countries. “China will, as always, give firm support to Pakistan’s efforts to combat terrorism,” General Fan was quoted saying in a Xinhua report (Zee News).
First Lady Michelle Obama is expected to receive a gift of 100 hand-woven banarasi saris — a traditional Indian silk garment worn by women — from the holy city of Varanasi, according to several news outlets and local businessman Pervez Matin (Al Arabiya, Economic Times, Deccan Chronicle, Indian Express, NDTV). “We have used pure gold and silver threads for the sari that we have prepared for Michelle,” said Pervez Matin, whose family has been in the weaving business for three generations (Deccan Chronicle). Months of painstaking preparations have gone into the saris, which normally cost around 150,000 Indian rupees ($2,400). Some reports suggest that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the request to gift the saris.
Banarasi saris are those specifically made in Varanasi, where the city has earned a reputation for weaving India’s finest garments with the staple embroidery of gold and silver. Varanasi’s 40,000 weavers are mostly Muslim and have been in the craft for generations (NDTV). Despite its fame, India’s centuries-old sari industry is facing competition from countries like China, where garments are increasingly made with cheaper costs. Ahead of the Obama’s visit, an excited Indian media doled out fashion pleas for the First Lady to sport a sari during her trip (Hindustan Times). While the verdict is still out on the First Lady’s remaining outfits, one saving grace was Michelle Obama’s choice to wear a tailored dress and matching jacket made by Indian-American designer Bibhu Mohapatra as she stepped off Air Force One with husband and U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday in New Delhi (Economic Times).
— Jameel Khan