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Kerry 'excited' about Modi, seeks India-US reboot

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L)shares a jovial moment with Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj during a meeting in New Delhi July 31, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L)shares a jovial moment with Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj during a meeting in New Delhi July 31, 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced optimism Thursday about working with India's new right-wing government as he paid a first visit aimed at reviving a relationship clouded by mistrust.

The United States and India have described each other as natural allies with common concerns about a rising China and Islamic extremism, but the world's largest democracies have weathered an unusually large number of disputes in the past year.

Kerry, who met senior Indian leaders in New Delhi, said that he wanted to "see things move in a very positive way" after Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept to power in May elections.

US Secretary of State John Kerry looks at carpets during a visit to the Central Cottage Industries Emporium marketplace in New Delhi July 31, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry looks at carpets during a visit to the Central Cottage Industries Emporium marketplace in New Delhi July 31, 2014

"We want a new relationship. We want to see things move in a very positive way," Kerry told India's NDTV television.

"We are excited about Prime Minister Modi's direction and wanting to provide jobs," Kerry said.

"The things he wants to do for electricity, for the people. We think there's a lot that the United States and India can work on together," he said shortly after meeting Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, a key player in the new government.

Kerry will on Friday meet Modi, a Hindu nationalist who was shunned by Washington until his election campaign over allegations of complicity in anti-Muslim riots as leader of Gujarat state in 2002.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd L) speaks with graduate student Poonam Choudhary about her work studying algae at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi July 31, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd L) speaks with graduate student Poonam Choudhary about her work studying algae at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi July 31, 2014

In a dramatic turnaround since his election, Western powers have raced to court Modi who will visit Washington in September to meet President Barack Obama.

"We will welcome Prime Minister Modi. Of course he will get a visa, no questions whatsoever and we look forward to a terrific meeting with President Obama," said Kerry.

- Series of rifts -

Modi has shown no outward sign of holding a grudge over Washington's past cold shoulder. But he took office amid a slew of fresh disputes between the two countries.

Indian perceptions that the United States is insensitive to its concerns broke into the open in December, when US authorities arrested an Indian diplomat for allegedly mistreating her servant.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves the BRICS-UNASUR Summit in Brazil on July 16, 2014
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves the BRICS-UNASUR Summit in Brazil on July 16, 2014

Allegations that Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party had been the target of surveillance operations by the US National Security Agency while it was in opposition have added to the sense of grievance on the Indian side.

More recently, India threatened to block a global pact to streamline customs procedures before Thursday's ratification deadline unless the World Trade Organisation (WTO) approves its stockpiling of food for the poor. Rich nations say the policy distorts global trade.

Kerry said the United States was "very sensitive" to India's concerns about stockpiling food and the Bali agreement ensured that "food security for India would be protected".

US Secretary of State John Kerry looks at a carved figurine during a visit to the Central Cottage Industries Emporium marketplace in New Delhi July 31, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry looks at a carved figurine during a visit to the Central Cottage Industries Emporium marketplace in New Delhi July 31, 2014

"The key is don't lose the opportunity. Right now India has a four-year window where it's given a safe harbour and nothing happens," he said.

"If they don't sign up and be part of the agreement, they will lose that and then be out of line or out or compliance with the WTO."

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said the US wanted to strengthen energy ties, including nuclear and was hopeful of resolving a key stumbling block of liability in the event of a nuclear accident on Indian soil.

"There's certainly a desire by American businesses to work not just with the Indian government but Indian businesses to see that there's a greater energy capacity here in India," she said, speaking alongside Kerry.

- Common ground on climate -

Kerry also emphasised softer issues close to his heart, including the environment, after a gruelling few weeks in which he has been intensively involved in Middle East diplomacy.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) speaks with graduate students about their work at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi July 31, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) speaks with graduate students about their work at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi July 31, 2014

The top US diplomat went on a morning tour of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Delhi where he spoke to students who are trying to make plastic biodegradable.

"It's very exciting. I wish you well with that. It would be a huge contribution to the world," Kerry said.

Kerry later had lunch with environmental experts, offering a warm hug to Rajendra Pachauri, the Indian scientist who heads the UN expert panel on climate change.

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