Obama, India's leader seek to reinvigorate ties

By Josh Lederman

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 27 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md.

Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is hosting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for talks on trade and security in a fragile region, offering a chance to inject new life into the partnership amid concerns that relations have stagnated.

The leaders of the world's two largest democracies were to meet Friday at the White House, where they were expected to firm up plans for moving forward on defense and civil nuclear agreements. U.S. efforts to counter China's growing influence and the tenuous situation in Afghanistan will be strong undertones, even if the leaders don't address them explicitly in public.

Economic cooperation and clean-energy initiatives also were on the agenda, the White House said. Singh may also press the president on concerns about how India's high-skilled workers would be affected by immigration legislation pending in Congress.

A frequent exchange of official visits has characterized the close relationship between the two countries. Singh visited Washington in 2009, and Obama traveled to India a year later. Vice President Joe Biden, who will join the meeting Friday, recently spent four days in India, where he met with Singh and emphasized the benefits of increased trade.

A landmark agreement on civil nuclear technology forged between Singh and former President George W. Bush has failed to yield the immediate economic benefits some had hoped. There's been disappointment that military trade and economic reforms haven't progressed quickly enough either.

Both nations see a close partnership as key to their own interests.

"There's a bipartisan sense in Washington that India, being a large, growing Asian democracy, occupies potentially a very important role — not least because it stands next to China," said Daniel Markey, a former State Department official and South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It could be an Asia giant to counter some of China's influence in the world."

India may also be seeking assurances about war-torn Afghanistan, where New Delhi is concerned the Taliban may fill the power vacuum created by the drawdown of U.S. troops. Chief among India's concerns is the role its neighboring rival, Pakistan, will play in influencing Afghanistan's future.

Although Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are working toward warmer relations, violence along the disputed Kashmir border threatens to undermine progress between the two nuclear-armed countries. Ahead of Obama's meeting with Singh, the White House announced Thursday that Obama will meet with Sharif at the White House next month.

While Obama and Singh meet Friday, first Lady Michelle Obama plans to host the prime minister's wife, Gursharan Kaur, for tea at the White House.

Follow Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

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