Modi and Biden Meet to Strengthen India-U.S. Relations: Live Updates

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President Biden emphasized common ground with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India on Thursday during a lavish state visit meant to bolster ties with the world’s most populous nation, but he publicly skirted points of friction over the crackdown on human rights in India and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

After a pomp-filled, red-carpet arrival ceremony, Mr. Biden and Mr. Modi announced a range of initiatives to advance cooperation in technology, energy and military hardware but announced no movement toward each other on the areas of disagreement that have strained the relationship in recent months, especially Ukraine.

In a modest but notable breakthrough, however, Mr. Biden coaxed Mr. Modi into taking questions from reporters at a news conference, apparently the first time he had done so in his nearly decade-long tenure. Challenged on his record on human rights and religious freedom, Mr. Modi insisted that democracy is “in India’s DNA” and denied that his government has engaged in discrimination based on race, faith or other such distinctions.

“Democracy is our spirit. Democracy runs in our veins. We live democracy,” Mr. Modi said as Mr. Biden watched in the East Room of the White House. “There’s absolutely no space for discrimination,” Mr. Modi added, even as demonstrators outside the White House gates protested the crackdown on dissent back in India.

Responding to questions himself, Mr. Biden dismissed criticism from Beijing over his comments this week describing President Xi Jinping of China as a “dictator.” He said that candidly outlining what he sees as “facts with regard to” China “is just not something I’m going to change very much.” But he added that he still expects to meet with Mr. Xi later this year despite his remark. “I don’t think it’s had any real consequence.”

The state visit for Mr. Modi is the latest move on the geopolitical chess board as Mr. Biden seeks more allies against increasingly aggressive governments in Moscow and Beijing. India, which remained staunchly nonaligned during the Cold War, has refused to join the American-led coalition aiding Ukraine in its war against invading Russian forces. And while it shares a certain enmity for China, it has not fully subscribed to Washington’s strategy for dealing with the Asian giant.

Mr. Biden celebrated India’s rise with a display of pageantry on the South Lawn complete with marching bands, honor guards and a 21-gun salute, to be followed by a gala state dinner in the evening. In between, Mr. Modi will address a joint session of Congress.

“I’ve long believed that the relationship between the United States and India will be one of the defining relationships of the 21st century,” Mr. Biden told a crowd gathered on the South Lawn, “two proud nations whose love of freedom secured our independence, bound by the same words in our Constitution, the first three words, ‘we the people.’”

Mr. Modi, dressed in a traditional long vest known as an achkan, thanked Mr. Biden for the honor of a state visit and likewise suggested the two nations could tackle international challenges in tandem. “In the post-Covid era, the world order is taking a new shape,” he said in Hindi. “In this time period, the friendship between India and the U.S. will be instrumental in enhancing the strength of the whole world.”

The scene on the South Lawn in the morning underscored the growing prominence of Indian Americans in the United States.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

India, whose population recently surpassed China’s to lead the world, represents perhaps the most important of the so-called Global South nations that Mr. Biden is pursuing, both for its economic potential as well as for its geopolitical position. And Mr. Modi, without directly referring to that in his remarks at the arrival ceremony, nonetheless alluded to India’s growing power, mentioning its population of 1.4 billion three times in just a few minutes.

To mark their ties, the two leaders rolled out a long list of joint initiatives on telecommunications, semiconductors, artificial intelligence and other areas. Mr. Modi agreed to sign the Artemis Accords, a set of principles governing peaceful exploration of the moon, Mars and other celestial bodies, and the two will announce a joint mission to the International Space Station in 2024. The United States and India will open additional consulates in each other’s country.

Among the most concrete agreements highlighted on Thursday was a deal between General Electric and the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to manufacture in India F414 engines used to power the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The two sides also announced that India would proceed with a long-stalled $3 billion purchase of MQ-9B Predator drones from General Atomics.

The military hardware sales may help continue to wean India off Russian arms suppliers, but otherwise officials previewing the visit offered no indications that Mr. Modi would move closer to backing Ukraine in the war, nor were there any concrete examples of increased cooperation to counter China’s assertive moves in the Indo-Pacific region.

Biden administration officials suggested the meeting was just one step in an evolution of India’s stance on the Ukraine war, part of what they characterized as “bending the arc of India’s engagement,” so New Delhi can be helpful in encouraging diplomacy when the time for negotiations eventually arrives.

But Mr. Modi offered no sign that he was willing to shift his neutral position on the war. Once again, he stressed the need for “dialogue and diplomacy” and added that “we are completely ready to contribute in any way we can to restore peace,” without condemning Russia’s unprovoked invasion of a neighboring country.

In cultivating Mr. Modi, who before becoming prime minister was denied a U.S. visa because of his role in a deadly religious riot in his home state, Mr. Biden took a soft approach to backsliding on democracy in India. In his welcome remarks, Mr. Biden described the two countries as fellow democracies committed to universal values without directly mentioning the increasing suppression of minority groups and opposition voices in India.

Mr. Modi suggested the two nations could tackle international challenges in tandem.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“Equity under the law, freedom of expression, religious pluralism, diversity of our people — these core principles have endured and evolved even as they have faced challenges throughout each of our nations’ histories, and will fuel our strength, depth and future,” Mr. Biden said at the arrival ceremony.

Officials previewing the visit said the president would raise human rights issues during his private meetings with Mr. Modi, but in briefing reporters they used the word “respectful” more than once to characterize Mr. Biden’s approach.

Several liberal Democrats in Congress planned to boycott Mr. Modi’s speech to a joint session later on Thursday. “A joint address is among the most prestigious invitations and honors the United States Congress can extend,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York wrote on Twitter. “We should not do so for individuals with deeply troubling human rights records.”

The scene on the South Lawn in the morning underscored the rising role of Indian Americans in the United States as a crowd of thousands gathered on a gloomy, overcast day to cheer the prime minister’s visit and chant, “Modi, Modi!”

Mr. Biden has sought more allies against increasingly aggressive governments in Moscow and Beijing.Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Mr. Biden pointed to the prevalence of Indian Americans in prominent positions. “We see it here at the White House where proud Americans of Indian heritage serve our country every day — including our vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris,” he said, turning to Ms. Harris standing off to the side.

Ms. Harris’s mother emigrated from India to the United States as a teenager and Mr. Biden cited the story of “a family like so many of ours in our nation that speaks to the thousands of stories of determination, courage and hope.”

The state dinner, only the third of Mr. Biden’s presidency, will be held on the South Lawn in a pavilion draped in green with saffron-colored flowers at every table, the colors of the Indian flag. Lotus blossoms, an important symbol in India, will be incorporated throughout the décor. Images of the bald eagle and the peacock, the national birds of the two countries, will be displayed as the backdrop when the leaders offer their traditional toasts.

The menu is vegetarian, with an optional sumac-roasted sea bass.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The menu will be vegetarian, in accordance with Mr. Modi’s diet, with an optional fish entree. The first course will be a marinated millet and grilled corn kernel salad with compressed watermelon and avocado sauce, followed by a main course of stuffed portobello mushrooms and creamy saffron-infused risotto. A sumac-roasted sea bass will be available upon request. A rose and cardamom-infused strawberry shortcake will be served for dessert.

Joshua Bell, the Grammy-winning violinist, will perform, as will Penn Masala, a South Asian a cappella group founded by students at the University of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Marine Band chamber orchestra.


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