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Asia

Indo-US ties: 'Deeper than ever before'

Indian PM Manmohan Singh is to meet President Barack Obama in what may be his last visit to the US as prime minister. The summit comes at a time of growing engagement between the two nations, says analyst Tanvi Madan.

Singh and Obama (main picture) are scheduled to meet at the White House on Friday, September 27. The 80-year-old Singh, who has been struggling with India's slowing economic growth, a rapid depreciation of the rupee and corruption scams, has already indicated he would not like to continue as PM after next year's elections. The summit in Washington will be the third meeting between the two leaders in four years.

In a DW interview, India expert Tanvi Madan says that the increasing engagement between the world's two largest democracies has not only meant more closeness, but also greater friction.

DW: What is the current state of Indo-US ties?

Tanvi Madan: The state of the relationship is strong, though there is little doubt that its forward momentum has slowed down. That the relationship is broader and deeper than ever before is not just a cliche; it is a fact.

It is a far cry from just 15 years ago when some in the US were debating whether or not India was a rogue state and Indians were discussing how the US was actively seeking to prevent India's rise.

Tanvi Madan, a fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, and director of the new India Project. (Photo: Brookings Institution)

Madan says the state of the relationship is strong

Nonetheless, the two countries are dealing with a range of differences - a number stemming from the fact that increasing engagement has not just meant more closeness, but also greater friction.

What is the meeting between US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh likely to focus on?

The two countries have a host of regional issues to discuss, including those related to the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East. Defense, energy, economic ties and the subject of climate change.

What are both leaders expecting from the meeting?

Both administrations are keeping expectations low. They're highlighting how this visit follows an unprecedented number of visits of senior policymakers from each country to the other. This is also a way to establish that the relationship has progressed enough that summits between US and Indian leaders are no longer rare, but routine.

Much of the substantive work has already been done in the run-up to this meeting. In that sense, these visits are not just useful to show commitment to the relationship, but also in terms of focusing the attention of the bureaucracies, who have a lot on their plate otherwise.

What are the main challenges affecting US-India relations and what challenges does China's economic rise pose?

There are challenges on the economic front: some US and Indian companies haven't been happy about policies in the other country. On the geopolitical front, India has major concerns about what the US drawdown of forces in Afghanistan will mean for India's role there. The same is true for the American and Indian relationships with Pakistan and the American stance on terrorism in the region.

Both India and the US have complex relationships with China that involve elements of competition, concern and cooperation. American and Indian leaders would like their country to benefit from China's economic rise, but there is concern about Chinese behavior and trade and investment policies.

During his visit to the US, Singh is also expected to meet Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. How important is the meeting between the two leaders of the nuclear-armed nations?

It is significant, but how significant it will turn out to be, will depend on what follows it. There have been high-level meetings before. For instance, Sharif met with Prime Minister Vajpayee in 1999 and President Musharraf with Vajpayee in 2001. But what many remember about those meetings is what came after: the Kargil War in 1999, and the attack on the Indian parliament and subsequent India-Pakistan border standoff in 2001-02.

The two leaders and countries have a window of opportunity, but it might not be open for long. Sharif's honeymoon phase won't last and in India, the prime minister, who has been personally committed to moving things forward with Pakistan, faces elections next year. From the Indian perspective, they'll be watching to see what Sharif's intentions are - there remains a major trust deficit between the two countries - and whether he has the capacity to make peace, especially in terms of getting the military on board the peace train.

Tanvi Madan is a fellow in the foreign policy program at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, and director of the new India Project. Her work focuses on India's foreign policy, in particular, on the South Asian nation's relations with China and the United States.

The interview was conducted by Gabriel Domínguez.