By Nandita Bose and Steve Holland WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden rolled out the White House red carpet for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday as part of his effort to jump-start a stronger U.S.-India relationship and counter China’s global influence with a series of defense and trade agreements. Biden treated Modi to a […]
Biden welcomes Modi with splashy White House ceremony, business deals
By Nandita Bose and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden rolled out the White House red carpet for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday as part of his effort to jump-start a stronger U.S.-India relationship and counter China’s global influence with a series of defense and trade agreements.
Biden treated Modi to a colorful White House South Lawn arrival ceremony before some 7,000 people in the morning, to be followed by Oval Office talks and a glittering state dinner in the evening. The two leaders held a private, intimate dinner at the White House on Wednesday night.
“The challenges and opportunities facing the world in this century require that India and the United States work and lead together, and we are,” Biden said.
Modi said the visit honored the people of his country and the entire Indian diaspora.
“This grand welcome ceremony at the White House today is an honor and pride for the 1.4 billion people of India,” he said, speaking partly in English and partly in Hindi. “This is also an honor for more than 4 million people of Indian origin living in the U.S. For this honor, I express my heartfelt gratitude.”
The festival-like opening ceremony featured violinist Vibha Janakiraman and a cappella group Penn Masala performing renditions of songs by the American group Maroon 5 as well as from movies by the Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
In a rare gesture, Modi has agreed to take questions from reporters with Biden at the White House on Thursday. Modi has not conducted a news conference since becoming prime minister nine years ago and his visit has drawn attention to concerns over human rights in India.
Washington wants India to be a strategic counterweight to China and sees India as a critical partnership, although some analysts and former officials question India’s willingness to stand up collectively to Beijing over issues such as Taiwan. Modi is seeking to raise the influence that India, the world’s most populous country at 1.4 billion, has on the world stage in the wake of strained ties with neighboring China.
Senior Biden administration officials said the sweeping agreements to be announced on semiconductors, critical minerals, technology, space cooperation and defense cooperation and sales will ring in a new era in relations between the two countries.
Some of the deals are aimed at diversifying supply chains to reduce dependence on China. The United States has also sought to address China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific region by bolstering defense ties with countries like India and Australia.
The two leaders will sign off on what one official called a “trailblazing” deal to allow General Electric Co to produce jet engines in India to power Indian military aircraft. GE said on Thursday it signed a memorandum of understanding with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd to produce the engines.
In addition, U.S. Navy ships in the region will be able to stop in Indian shipyards for repairs under a maritime agreement reached between the two governments.
The leaders will also announce India’s plan to procure U.S.-made armed MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones, the U.S. officials said. “We have now entered really a ‘next generation’ defense partnership,” said one U.S. official.
The agreements will include U.S. chipmaker Micron Technology’s $2.7 billion plan for a new semiconductor testing and packaging unit, to be built in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The U.S. will also make it easier for skilled Indian workers to get and renew U.S. visas.
India also agreed to join the U.S.-led Artemis Accords on space exploration and to work with NASA on a joint mission to the International Space Station in 2024.
AOC, MUSLIM CONGRESS MEMBERS TO BOYCOTT
The flurry of agreements comes as some lawmakers have raised serious concerns about democratic backsliding in India.
Biden is under pressure from his fellow Democrats to discuss human rights with Modi. Three progressive Democrats – U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib – have said they would boycott Modi’s address to Congress on Thursday.
“I encourage my colleagues who stand for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of the press to join me in doing the same,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a Twitter post on Wednesday.
Biden will bring up concerns about press freedoms, religious freedoms and other issues in a respectful way without “hectoring, lecturing or scolding,” one U.S. official who briefed reporters said.
Rights advocates, who plan to protest during Modi’s visit, on Wednesday said Biden should publicly call out the prime minister’s rights record. They say the approach of U.S. administrations of raising issues in private with the Indian leader has not stemmed what they described as deteriorating human rights in India.
Meanwhile, Republican U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters he and the chamber’s Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, would lead a bipartisan congressional delegation to India in October, Punchbowl News reported on Thursday.
Modi has been to the United States five times since becoming prime minister in 2014, but the trip will be his first with the full diplomatic status of a state visit.
Biden and his wife Jill were set to give Modi gifts including a vintage American camera, a print of George Eastman’s patent of the first Kodak camera, a book of American wildlife photography and a signed first edition of Robert Frost poems.
Modi will address U.S. CEOs at a reception on Friday, as American companies plan new investments in India.
On Tuesday, he met with Tesla chief Elon Musk in New York. Musk said afterwards he plans to make the vehicles available in India as soon as possible.
Musk said Modi was pushing the car maker to make a “significant investment” in the country, adding that such an announcement was expected soon.
(Reporting By Steve Holland and Nandita Bose; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Heather Timmons, Sharon Singleton and Jonathan Oatis)