Indian PM to review ties during US visit

Indian PM to review ties during US visit

PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh was looking to bring back some momentum to India-US ties during his visit to the US, where he would meet President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday.

Dr Singh, who left on Wednesday on a four-day visit to the United States, is expected to convey the message that India is still serious about moving forward on the nuclear deal, which was signed in 2008 but has been stuck over the issue of liability.

The Indian Cabinet on Tuesday night approved a preliminary pact between Nuclear Power Corp of India and US company Westinghouse to start the process to set up nuclear reactors in India. The pact, although a small step forward, is likely to be finalised during his visit.

"My visit is an opportunity to review our joint efforts and chart a course for our future cooperation," said Dr Singh, in a departure statement where he termed ties with the US as being among India's "most important relationships".

Dr Singh has always put a lot of stock in building ties with the US, even staking his government on the India-US nuclear deal in 2008. The deal brought India out of nuclear isolation following nuclear tests in 1998, which resulted in sanctions against India.

But the momentum has tapered off in recent years with the two countries disagreeing over not just India's nuclear liability, which the US says is too strict as it allows the operator of a nuclear plant to seek damages from the supplier, but also in other areas such as economic cooperation.

Though trade between India and the US has increased from US$9 billion (S$11 billion) in 1995 to nearly US$100 billion this year, American businesses have been vocal about the difficulties of doing business in India.

While highlighting the economic reforms taken by his government to attract foreign investment, Dr Singh is also expected to seek clarification from Mr Obama on the proposed immigration reforms in the US that restrict visas for information technology workers and would hurt Indian software companies that base its employees at US locations.

Analysts said the visit will focus on reviewing ties.

"It is going to be a stock-taking visit," said former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. "They won't be looking at long-term and fresh initiatives but getting rid of current irritants."

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