Barack Obama's phone call ended frosty ties with Narendra Modi: US envoy

Written by PTI | Ahmedabad | Updated: Aug 20 2014, 23:52pm hrs
The phone call from President Barack Obama to Narendra Modi to congratulate him on his electoral victory "set the tone" for ending the chill in the US' relations with the Indian leader caused by a decade-long visa ban, America's interim Ambassador Kathleen Stephens said today.

"I arrived here in June shortly after the new government was formed. You know that President (Barack) Obama called up Prime Minister elect even before he was sworn in to congratulate him and extend an invitation and I think that set the tone," Stephens, US Ambassador Charge d'Affaires ad interim to India told reporters here.

She was responding to a query as to what brought about a thaw in the frosty ties between the US and Modi, who was a persona non grata for that country since the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The state department had in 2005 revoked a visa that Modi had for travelling to the US on the ground of alleged human rights violations after the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Stephens said a string of high-profile visits by the US leaders to India during which they met Modi were "very positive".

"My life (here) is dominated by visits. First one was of senator John McCain, then John Kerry (Secretary of State), Penny Pritzker (Secretary of Commerce) and Chuck Hagel (Secretary of Defence).

"Why I am mentioning all these names is in each case, we had an opportunity to meet Prime Minister Modi. So the fact that he was ready to give time to talk about how we go forward in this relationship, we took it as a very positive sign. And they were all very positive meetings," she said.

"So we are placed well and signals from the (Indian) government are very clear. Not only at the prime ministerial level but at the level of the government also...a great priority has been given to the India-US relationship which President Obama has called a defining relationship," Stephens said.

The US had maintained minimum contact with the Gujarat government in the aftermath of 2002 riots till the visit of Ambassador Nancy Powell to meet Modi in February this year ahead of the elections after he had been declared BJP's prime ministerial candidate.

Stephens said both sides are working for next month's Summit meeting between Modi and Obama to make it "result oriented rather than just a meeting".

Replying to a question on whether the US companies had lost opportunity to set up an industrial base in Gujarat over the past decade due to their policy towards Modi, Stephens said India is ranked 138 on the index of friendliness in doing business and she understands that the new government is trying to change things.

The US envoy, who arrived here from Delhi by Rajdhani Express on a two-day visit to Gujarat, is likely to meet Chief Minister Anandi Patel.

About her train journey, Stephens said she undertook it to "understand and see for herself the country and enjoyed it".

She also said there will be increased participation of the US in the bi-annual 'Vibrant Gujarat Summit' to be held next year.