SEIZING on their personal bond, President Barack Obama and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said yesterday they had made progress on nuclear co-operation and climate change, with Mr Obama declaring a “breakthrough understanding” in efforts to free US investment in nuclear energy development in India.
Mr Obama and Mr Modi expressed hope that a 2008 nuclear agreement between the US and India could begin to bear fruit.
“We are committed to moving towards full implementation and this is an important step that shows how we can work together to elevate our relationship,” Mr Obama said.
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The two countries had been at an impasse over US insistence on tracking fissile material it supplies to India and Indian liability provisions that have discouraged US firms from capitalising on a civil nuclear agreement between the US and India.
“In our judgment, the Indians have moved sufficiently on these issues to give us assurances that the issues are resolved,” said Ben Rhodes, Mr Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
Mr Rhodes said it would still be up to US companies to assess the market and decide whether they wanted to partake. He said neither country needed to take legislative action to complete the agreements the leaders reached yesterday.
In a joint appearance following their meetings, both men went out of their way to illustrate how their personal chemistry was yielding progress on various fronts, from defence, to trade to energy issues.
Under hazy skies yesterday, Mr Modi greeted Mr Obama with a hug on the airport tarmac and offered an elaborate welcome at the country’s sprawling presidential palace. Mr Obama also solemnly laid a wreath at a memorial honouring the father of India’s independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi.
Yesterday Mr Obama was due be the guest of honour at India’s Republic Day festivities, making him the first US president to attend the anniversary of the enactment of country’s democratic constitution.
Taking some of the lustre off the trip, Mr Obama is cutting his trip short to go to Saudi Arabia tomorrow to pay respects to the royal family following the death of King Abdullah. In doing so, the White House had to cancel a tour by the president and first lady of the Taj Mahal, the famed white marble monument to love in the city of Agra.
Other international topics also dogged Mr Obama on his trip.
Mr Obama said the administration is “deeply concerned” about the latest deadly flare-up in eastern Ukraine, where authorities said indiscriminate rocket fire killed at least 30 people in Mariupol, in the south-east, on Saturday. But he insisted that he would keep trying to isolate Russia and would review options short of military conflict with Russia over Ukraine.