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PM Modi’s Washington visit poised to take India-US Relations to a new high

US President Joe Biden (Left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Right) share a warm personal chemistry that has helped advance Indo-US relations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be embarking on his eighth visit to the United States on 20th June, 2023. It is a testament to the dynamism of this partnership and the critical importance that India attaches to its ties with the US that over the last 9 years since he assumed office, PM Modi has travelled most often to the United States.

PM Modi has been invited by President Joe Biden and Mrs. Jill Biden for his first Official State visit to the United States. State visits to the US are infrequent. In addition, PM Modi has been invited to address the Joint Session of the US Congress on June 22. He had last Addressed the US Congress in June, 2016. He is the only Indian leader and one of the very few world leaders to have been invited to address the US Congress more than once. The last Indian leader to travel to the US for an Official state visit was Dr. Manmohan Singh in 2009. Dr. Singh also addressed the US Congress in 2005.

The invitation to PM Modi for the Official State Visit as also to address the US Congress demonstrates the importance that the United States and President Biden accord to their partnership with India and the role that PM Modi has played in bringing it to this level.

The visit is expected to strengthen the shared commitment of the two countries to a free, open, prosperous, and inclusive Indo-Pacific and their shared resolve to elevate their strategic technology partnership, including in defense, critical and emerging technologies, clean energy, and space.

Evolution of the Partnership

President Bill Clinton deserves full credit for launching the bilateral ties on an upward trajectory during his visit to India in March, 2000. All other Presidents after Clinton including George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and currently Joe Biden have also worked assiduously to make the partnership grow at a rapid pace.

In India also all Prime Ministers including AB Vajpayee, Dr. Manmohan Singh and currently PM Narendra Modi have contributed sedulously to the expansion of bilateral partnership. Much of the credit for the exceptional rise in bilateral ties would go to PM Modi because of the steadfast leadership he has displayed in ‘’overcoming the hesitations of history’’ and registering a quantum jump in bilateral relations.

Bipartisan support exists in both the countries among the political leadership, parliamentarians, business community and common people for ever stronger relations between the two countries. This has made the bilateral relationship the most consequential for India in these volatile and uncertain times.

Current State of Play

The upward momentum of bilateral relations during President Trump’s tenure was given a further shot in the arm during President Biden’s current term from January, 2021.

The advent of President Biden’s term has witnessed extremely warm, cordial and friendly interactions between him and PM Modi. The personal warmth, respect and rapport between the two leaders has been visible during their meetings over the last several months including at Hiroshima for the G7 and Quad Summits (May, 2023); in Bali at the G20 Summit (November, 2022); at the G7 Summit in Elmau, Germany (June, 2022); at the G20 Summit in Italy in October, 2021, and many more.

Also, notwithstanding the fact that Biden has been actively engaged with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, he has not taken his eyes off the Indo-Pacific. Five Summit level interactions amongst the Quad (Australia, Japan, India, USA) leaders have taken place over 25 months–two in virtual format (April, 2021 and March, 2022) and three in in-person mode. The in-person meetings took place in Washington DC in September, 2021, in Tokyo in May, 2022, and in Hiroshima in May, 2023. This extraordinary attention to the Quad conclusively demonstrates the resolve of the leaders of the four countries to strengthen their partnership to effectively push back against China’s growing expansionism, and to ensure that the Quad emerges as a ‘’force for global good.’’

Today there is a convergence not only of values but also of interests between India and the US. Some issues that bring the two countries together encompass the fight against terrorism, particularly emanating from Pakistan; China’s expansionism and increasing belligerence; defence cooperation and intelligence-exchange; US interest in India’s large and expanding domestic market; presence of a large and influential Indian diaspora in the US; India’s need for infusion of capital and technology for its rapid economic growth etc.

Today the two countries have more than 60 bilateral Dialogue mechanisms encompassing Renewable Energy, Climate Change, IT, Innovation, Healthcare, Agriculture, Cyber Security and more. The US has emerged as the second largest supplier of defence equipment to India. The countries are coming out of the shadows of engaging in a mere buyer-seller relationship in defence supplies. India does more defence exercises with the USA than with any other partner. The Malabar exercises between India, US, Japan and Australia bring the four Quad partners together in their endeavor to balance China and promote peace and security.

Some Concrete Developments

Recent months have witnessed a huge fillip to the bilateral partnership in technology and innovation through several meetings, visits and interactions at senior levels. All these decisions will seamlessly integrate into outcomes of PM Modi’s forthcoming visit.

The US-India CEO Forum was soft-launched in November 2022. The key priorities include increasing supply chain resilience; enhancing energy security & reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions; advancing inclusive digital trade; and facilitating post-pandemic economic recovery, especially for small businesses.

The Initiative on Critical and Emergent Technologies (iCET) was mooted during the meeting between PM Modi and President Biden on the sidelines of the Quad Summit in Tokyo in May, 2022. This was intended to elevate and expand the bilateral strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation. It was taken forward in discussions between NSA Ajit Doval and his US counterpart Jake Sullivan during the former’s visit to the US in January, 2023. iCET is designed to ‘’forge closer linkages between government, academia and industry in areas such as AI, quantum computing, 5G/6G, biotech, space and semiconductors.” The iCET is expected to focus on removing barriers in technology transfers and co-production particularly in telecommunication and semiconductor chip supply chains.

In another major push to bilateral ties, the two countries announced a bilateral MOU in March, 2023 to establish a Semiconductor Supply Chain and Innovation Partnership.

At the inaugural meeting of the India-US Strategic Trade Dialogue (IUSSTD) held in the US in early June, 2023, the two sides ‘’focused on ways in which both governments can facilitate the development and trade of technologies in critical domains such as semiconductors, space, telecom, quantum, AI, defence, bio-tech and others.’’

A recent significant development was the visit by US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin in early June, 2023. This was his second visit to India after the first one in March, 2021. Far-reaching discussions took place particularly on the transfer of technology and joint production of GE-F414 turbofan engines in the 98 Kilonewton thrust class in India by the US-based General Electric (GE) and Indian defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics. These engines will be used in the made-in-India Tejas Mark-2 fighter jets. This will be a game changer if the agreement for this TOT is finalized as the US has not shared this technology with any other country except with the UK, its closest partner. Discussions on transfer of technology by US firms to India have been held for a long time. The Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) in 2014 proved to be a damp squib. The circumstances today both bilaterally and geo-politically are strikingly different from what existed in 2014.  Cautious optimism hence prevails that this landmark deal will be inked during PM Modi’s visit.

Some Snags

When relations between any two countries are so wide-ranging and comprehensive, it is but natural that there will be a few areas of disagreement. That is true in the case of India-US ties as well. The US, as well as several western nations, are unhappy that India has not unambiguously condemned Russia for its attack against Ukraine, and continues to buy increasing quantities of oil and fertilizers from it. India has spoken out unequivocally in favour of UN principles, and sanctity of territorial integrity and sovereignty of countries as enshrined in the UN Charter. India has squarely condemned the destruction of vital, civilian infrastructure in the conflict. India has clarified that its oil imports from Russia are a mere fraction of what the European countries import from Russia. Moreover, the huge increase in global price of energy is unsustainable for India as it imports 85% of its requirement of oil.

The U.S. had issued a number of statements immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 calling for India to reduce its military ties with Russia, forego Russian oil and vote alongside western countries at the UN. India did none of them. In  recent months, the US has given up on those demands. Ahead of his forthcoming visit to Delhi, the US NSA Jake Sullivan said that the U.S. should be prepared to “meet” India (and other countries not joining the sanctions) rather than “debate” them. Sullivan stated that although India had not joined the sanctions, the U.S.-India partnership has “never been stronger” in terms of technology, defence cooperation and people-to-people ties.

India has voiced its dissatisfaction with the US decision to provide Pakistan with a grant of US$450 million for upgrade of its F-16 fleet. The US argument that this assistance is being provided to Pakistan to fight terrorism has failed to cut any ice with India. In addition, the chaotic manner of the withdrawal of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, the uncalled for recent visit by the US Ambassador in Pakistan to the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and addressing it as Azad Jammu-Kashmir has riled India. India has clearly communicated its unhappiness on all these issues to the US.


In spite of some differences between them, both India and the US recognize that the areas of convergence between them are far greater than the issues that separate them. The challenge before the leadership of the two countries is to focus, build upon and expand the areas of convergence while continuing to have honest conversations on differences that separate them.

In his interaction with President Biden on the sidelines of the Quad Summit in Tokyo in May, 2022, PM Modi termed the bilateral relations as a ‘’Partnership of Trust.’’ President Biden said that he would like to make US relations with India ‘’among the closest we have on earth.’’ Responding to a question during his appearance at the Aspen Security Forum meeting, Kurt Campbell, the White House Asia coordinator, on 9th December, 2022 said: ‘’India is the most important bilateral relationship for the United States in the 21st century.’’

With strong and visionary leadership in the two countries, India-US bilateral ties can be expected to scale even greater heights in the years to come. PM Modi’s significant visit to the US can be expected to play a vital and decisive role in achieving this objective.

Also Read: PM Modi’s visit reveals new realism in US policy towards India

(Ashok Sajjanhar is a former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia. He is an Executive Council Member at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis and President, Institute of Global Studies. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)