Indian leader Modi heads for White House visit
Washington, Sep 29 (AP)- When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets President Barack Obama for the first time at the White House, the welcome will be very different from the response Modi got nearly a decade ago when he wanted to visit the U.S. His visa request was denied. But his election in May as the new leader of the world's largest democracy has transformed Modi into a welcome visitor. The two leaders will first break the ice over dinner Monday as they seek to reinvigorate soured relations between their countries. Obama's courtship of Modi continues Tuesday with an Oval Office meeting, marking a rare second day of attention from Obama. During their talks, Obama and Modi will focus on economic growth and cooperation on security, clean energy, climate change and other issues, the White House said. They will also address regional concerns, including Afghanistan, where the U.S. is wrapping up its 13-year military involvement, and Syria and Iraq, where the U.S. is ramping up its military engagement as Obama builds an international coalition to target Islamic State militants operating in the both countries. Obama visited India in 2010 and held up the U.S.-India relationship as the "defining partnership" of the 21st century. But the relationship has been lukewarm at best. While military cooperation and U.S. defense sales have grown, the economic relationship has been rockier, with Washington frustrated by India's failure to open its economy to more foreign investment and address complaints over intellectual property violations. A landmark civil nuclear agreement exists between the two countries, but Indian liability legislation has kept U.S. companies from capitalizing on the deal. Further fraying relations was the arrest and strip search last year in New York of an Indian diplomat on visa fraud charges. A major aspect of this week's visit is the chance for Obama and Modi to begin building rapport, administration officials said. Obama was among the first Western leaders to telephone Modi with congratulations after his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party swept into power after May's landslide vote. The visit also is a victory lap of sorts for Modi, a former tea seller. "He's gone in just a matter of a few months from persona non grata to person of honor to be received warmly in the Oval Office," said Milan Vaishnav, who studies South Asia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank. Modi's acceptance of Obama's invitation to the U.S. suggests he has moved beyond the resentment of being denied a visa in 2005, three years after religious riots killed more than 1,000 Muslims in the state of Gujarat, where he was the top elected official. Modi has denied involvement and India's Supreme Court has said there was no case to bring against him. Yet lingering suspicions about the riots threaten to distract from his five-day visit. The American Justice Center is offering $10,000 to anyone who can serve Modi with a summons issued by a federal court in New York to respond to a lawsuit the human rights group filed accusing him of serious abuses more than a decade ago. The lawsuit is on behalf of two unnamed survivors of the violence. White House spokesman Josh Earnest doubted the lawsuit would dampen Modi's "very important visit here." Sitting heads of government, while in the United States, are immune from lawsuits in U.S. courts and cannot be personally handed or delivered papers for a lawsuit, Earnest said. Heads of delegations to the U.N. General Assembly also enjoy immunity while in New York for the annual gathering of world leaders. Modi arrived in the U.S. on Friday and delivered his first address to the U.N. General Assembly on Saturday. Before heading for Washington, Modi addressed a sold-out audience of more than 18,000 people, mostly Indian-Americans, at New York's Madison Square Garden on Sunday. He called on Indians living abroad to "join hands to serve our mother India." About 30 U.S. lawmakers attended the event. Besides joining Obama for dinner, Modi is also scheduled to attend a State Department lunch Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry. But there is one small issue: Modi is fasting to honor the Hindu goddess Durga and is consuming only water or lemon-flavored water. The White House says his dietary needs will be accommodated.