U.S. President Barack Obama and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke a deadlock on a long-stalled nuclear pact Sunday, with both leaders noting their "friendship" as the catalyst for closer diplomatic ties.
Hours after arriving in India, the U.S. leader said he and Modi have "agreed to deepen" their defense and security cooperation.
Modi said the relationship between the United States and India "stands at a new level."
The deadlock has been stalling a civilian nuclear power agreement for years, and the action agreed upon is a step that both sides hope will help establish an enduring strategic partnership.
The two countries reached an understanding on two issues that, despite a groundbreaking 2008 agreement, had stopped U.S. companies from setting up reactors in India and became one of the major irritants in bilateral ties.
“We are committed to moving towards full implementation,” Obama told a joint news conference with Modi after he arrived in the Indian capital of New Delhi in a state visit. “This is an important step that shows how we can work together to elevate our relationship.”
Modi added, "I am pleased that six years after we signed our bilateral agreement, we are moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with our laws (and) international legal obligations."
Liability issues resolved
The new deal resolved differences over the liability of suppliers to India in the event of a nuclear accident and U.S. demands on tracking the whereabouts of material supplied to the country, U.S. ambassador to India Richard Verma told reporters.
"It opens the door for U.S. and other companies to come forward and actually help India towards developing nuclear power and support its non carbon-based energy production," Verma said.
“Ultimately it's up to the companies to go forward, but the two governments came to an understanding,” he added.
Obama arrived in India Sunday for a three-day visit during which he will become the first American leader to attend the country’s Republic Day ceremony.
Modi demonstrated the importance of the visit by breaking protocol to receive Obama at the airport with a big hug.
Their talks will primarily focus on trade, but also take in security, nuclear power and climate change.
The United States views India as a vast market and potential counterweight to China's assertiveness in Asia, but frequently grows frustrated with the slow pace of economic reforms and unwillingness to side with Washington in international affairs.
Elected last May, Modi has injected a new vitality into the economy and foreign relations and, to Washington's delight, begun pushing back against China's growing assertiveness across Asia.
In a veiled reference to China, the leaders reiterated the “importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.”
Agenda for visit. After his arrival, the U.S. president traveled to the presidential palace for an official welcoming ceremony with his Indian counterpart, Pranab Mukherjee.
Obama placed a wreath at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial ahead of talks with Modi and later, a state dinner.
On Monday, in addition to attending India’s Republic Day celebration, the U.S. president will speak at a CEO forum bringing together American and Indian business leaders.
Obama canceled a planned trip to the Taj Mahal to travel to Saudi Arabia on January 27, and will cap his New Delhi visit with a speech earlier Tuesday, laying out his vision for the future of U.S.-India relations