New Delhi: At a time when Indo-US ties appeared to be losing steam, President Barack Obama has invited PM Manmohan Singh for a bilateral meeting this year, Indian media reported on Saturday.
Confirming the development, sources in Washington told ‘Time of India’ that Singh has accepted the invitation and the dates were being worked.
India has proposed that the meeting happen when Singh visits the US for the UNGA but sources said that both sides are looking for a mutually convenient time between September and December. The invitation to Singh comes when there has been a stalemate over civil nuclear cooperation owing to India's nuclear liability law.
TOI has learnt that US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns first spoke to Indian authorities about Obama's desire for a meeting with Singh during his recent visit to Delhi. Then a formal invite was extended.
Sources said that the leaders will review all key bilateral issues between the two countries including civil nuclear initiative, counter terrorism, Afghanistan, defence, space collaboration and education.
Afghanistan is an issue where India has certain reservations about US policies ahead of the pullout next year. US has repeatedly praised India for facilitating regional economic integration and ensuring private sector investment in the country but New Delhi has been watching with reservations the US move to engage the Afghan Taliban in the reconciliation process.
Sources said that Singh will also strongly take up the issue of a controversial immigration bill, proposed by a bipartisan group of Senators (Gang of 8), which proposes to tighten H1-B regulations further against the interest of Indian IT companies. In an interview to TOI, foreign minister Salam Khurshid said that the draft bill wasn't good for bilateral ties.
This will be Obama's first bilateral meeting in his second term with Singh, whom he looks upon as a friend. While the US president has expressed his fondness for Singh on several occasions, the fact that he chose not to meet him on the sidelines of UNGA in New York in 2011, and also did not invite him to Washington during that trip, was seen as a let down.
Obama may have more than made up for it by inviting Singh at a time when the government led by the Indian PM is plagued by domestic crises. Singh was the first state guest of President Obama when he visited Washington in November 2009. The visit was used by the two leaders to reaffirm the global strategic partnership between the two countries.
The meeting will also earn India some diplomatic bragging rights in that it will ensure Singh's engagements with leaders of all P5 countries in 2013. While French President Francois Hollande and British PM David Cameron have already visited India, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is arriving in New Delhi on Sunday. Singh is also expected to visit Russia this year.