By Arun Kumar
Washington: A day after a perceived u-turn in its stance on Narendra Modi, the United States downplayed the US ambassador’s plans to meet Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate as simply part of political outreach efforts.
“Well, as you know, we are often engaged in concentrated outreach to senior political and business leaders,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday when asked what led the US to change its policy on the Gujarat chief minister.
“We began doing that months ago, if not years ago – in different scales, of course – to highlight and continue our US-India relationship,” she said insisting “There have been no changes in our policy per se.”
“This is an effort in that engagement. But I can certainly confirm the appointments or the meeting upcoming,” Psaki said referring to US ambassador to India Nancy Powell’s planned meeting with Modi later this week.
The spokesperson would not say at what level the decision for having a Powell-Modi meeting was taken.
“These decisions don’t always rise up to every highest level. But certainly, all relevant individuals who needed to weigh in weighed in, and agreed that it was certainly an appropriate meeting to have,” she said.
Western nations have shunned Modi for the last nine years since the US revoked his visa in 2005 over the 2002 Gujarat riots under a law barring entry of foreign officials seen as responsible for “severe violations of religious freedom”.
But since Modi’s emergence as a national leader, the US business lobby has reached out to him. Three Republican lawmakers accompanied a US business delegation that met him in Ahmedabad last year. A senior US diplomat also attended that meeting. But no US ambassador has met him so far.
Asked if this was not a change, Psaki said: “I don’t have any further details to share other than to convey that we do broad outreach to a range of officials in India and many countries around the world with different backgrounds.”
“And it’s certainly – it’s simply just an example of that,” she added.
Asked to comment on Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’ reported sharp reaction to the Powell-Modi meeting linking it with human rights issues, Psaki said: “Well, we’d certainly refute that notion or that claim.”
“We meet with officials from a range of backgrounds in many, many countries, including India, and it’s simply an example of that,” she asserted.
Asked if the change in US stance had something to do with Modi’s emergence as a prospective prime minister in India’s coming elections Psaki said: “we don’t take positions in elections, and certainly. this is not an example of us taking a position.”
The spokesperson also asserted that the planned meeting did not reflect a change in its visa policy.
“Well, there has been no change in our longstanding visa policy,” she said. “This is simply a meeting that we’re going to be having that the Ambassador is going to be having on the ground. Nothing has changed about our visa policy.”
“This is not a reflection of that changing, and certainly not a reflection of anything changing regarding our longstanding and strong advocacy for human rights around the world.”
Psaki said the Powell-Modi was also “absolutely not” going to change US business relations with India.
“We have a growing economic and strategic relationship with India, and one we look forward to continuing in the future,” she said.