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Narendra Modi Comes To Washington

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is not just a busy week in U.S. politics. It's also an important week for diplomacy because the prime minister of India, the world's second most populous country, will be visiting the nation's capital. Narendra Modi will meet with President Obama and address a joint session of Congress. NPR's Julie McCarthy is with us now from New Delhi to tell us more about the visit and what's on the agenda. Hi, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi, thank you.

MARTIN: So President Obama has been to India twice as president, and Narendra Modi has visited the U.S. four times in the last two years. What's behind all this?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, it's been a long process that began 16 years ago. The real framework of this relationship was the Cold War for many decades, so it was chilly. And lo and behold, in the year 2000, there's a conscious decision to change the trajectory of this relationship when President Clinton comes to India. The two sides finally look at each other and say, the U.S. and India are the world's two biggest democracies. Let's work together. Along comes President Bush, and he pushes the two sides even closer.

And now for President Obama, India is a stable anchor in a very unstable region. And there's lots of commonalities with the United States - innovative and great diversity in them and entrepreneurial. And so he extends this warm reception to Mr. Modi, you know, who at one point, Michel, was persona non grata in Washington.

MARTIN: Well, you know, would you - remind us again about that. Because as I understand it, Modi had previously been barred from entering the U.S. Could you just remind us of why that was and how, specifically, that changed?

MCCARTHY: Modi was denied a visa to come to the U.S. stemming from his handling of riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002. Then some 1,000 Muslims died on his watch, and it cast a shadow over Modi, who described himself as a Hindu nationalist. Since he came to office, there was a recognition that he was the prime minister. The people of India had spoken. And invitations were extended not just by the United States, but by many countries.

MARTIN: So what would Washington like to see Prime Minister Modi deliver during this visit or in connection with this visit? And what about vice versa?

MCCARTHY: Well, the U.S. would like to see a greater ease of doing business. Commerce here is encumbered by loads of red tape. India is hungry for technology. It wants to grow. It wants to create jobs. And it wants to co-produce defense equipment. Both sides want to curb climate change.

And environmentalists hope that India, this time around the number three polluter in the world, says in Washington that it will formally join the Paris climate accord by year's end and help push it into effect. And all of that helps President Obama's legacy on climate change. And India's renewable targets - very ambitious - helps Modi's legacy, but he's got to pay for it. He meets capital. He needs investment. But businesses needs to get a lot easier here or they won't come.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Julie, this is - the U.S. is not the only stop on Prime Minister Modi's trip this time. Where else is he going? And what - is there sort of an overall message to his travels on this particular trip?

MCCARTHY: I think you can sort of step back and say there's a series of countries he is going to. He started off in Afghanistan. He will end up in Mexico. This is a prime minister who wants India to be its own player on the global stage. And it's important to remember, too, that the U.S. and India are not formal allies. This is just a strategic partnership, and they're still wending their way through that.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy in New Delhi. Thanks, Julie.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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