Kerry sees common cause with new India leader

The government led by Narendra Modi is a strong proponent of solar power
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The government led by Narendra Modi is a strong proponent of solar power (AFP Photo/Evaristo Sa)

US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced hope Monday of finding common cause with India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hailing the nations' ties as "indispensable" despite recent friction.

Kerry, who heads Tuesday to New Delhi in the highest-level US contact yet with the right-leaning government that took office in May, said he envisioned cooperation with Modi on issues ranging from promoting economic growth to fighting climate change.

A day after returning from a grueling trip in which he failed to end the bloody Gaza conflict, Kerry said that a close relationship with India was among the US "long-term strategic imperatives" despite the "flashpoints that dominate the daily headlines."

"The United States and India can and should be indispensable partners for the 21st century, and that is, I assure you, the way we approach the Modi government," said Kerry, whose tenure has been dominated by seeking Middle East peace.

India's new government has won an historic mandate to deliver change and reform and, together, we have a singular opportunity to help India to be able to meet that challenge," Kerry said at the Center for American Progress, a think tank.

Modi led his Bharatiya Janata Party to the most sweeping victory in an Indian election in 30 years on promises to turbocharge an economy seen as sputtering below potential.

Kerry, who will be joined on his three-day visit by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, said he would talk to India about linking with Southeast Asia's dynamic economies to become "the heart of a more connected, prosperous region."

- Scars from past -

Despite Kerry's upbeat tone, the once-blossoming relationship between the world's two largest democracies has seen hiccups in recent months.

It is Kerry's first visit to India since US authorities in December arrested an Indian diplomat in New York on charges of mistreating her servant, enraging New Delhi which retaliated against US personnel.

Modi was persona non grata in the United States until his election campaign, with Washington in 2005 refusing him a visa over allegations that he turned a blind eye to anti-Muslim riots as the leader of the western state of Gujarat.

Modi was never charged with wrongdoing and, since it became clear he would win the election in the world's second most populous nation, Western governments have rushed to woo him.

Kerry, in what may have been an oblique mention of past concerns, said that the United States and India both "have worked hard to overcome our own divisions" and "draw strength from pluralism."

The top US diplomat praised Modi -- who was hawkish while in opposition toward Pakistan due to concerns about Islamic extremists -- for inviting the historic rival's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration in New Delhi.

- New chapter on climate change -

Kerry, a longtime advocate for stronger action against climate change, also hailed Modi for his push for a dramatic escalation of solar energy to combat India's frequent blackouts.

"Together, I believe that we can at last begin a new constructive chapter in the United States-India climate change relationship," Kerry said.

Climate change has been one area where the world's two largest democracies have been at odds, with India resenting calls from historic polluters such as the United States to set binding limits on carbon emissions.

The countries have also clashed over climate efforts, with the United States taking India to the World Trade Organization to fight requirements that solar components be locally produced.

Environmentalists have attacked the US stance, fearing it will impede India from developing a green economy. But Kerry urged India to "eliminate barriers that keep the best technology out of the Indian market."