Modi’s Visit to Washington

Wilson Center

Michael Kugelman

Narendra Modi’s Washington rehabilitation is complete. That’s the chief takeaway from the Indian prime minister’s three-day visit to the U.S. capital. His agenda included a sit-down with President Barack Obamaaddressing a joint session of Congress; and meetings with top CEOs, the World Bank director, several U.S. Cabinet members, and Washington think tankers.

Mr. Modi received a hero’s welcome from elected officials when he arrived at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, and his address to Congress drew multiple standing ovations. Many people hugged the prime minister as he entered and exited. Mr. Modi has come a long way in a short time; a decade ago, he was persona non grata in Washington. He was denied a visa to the U.S. in 2005 because officials thought that he hadn’t done enough to stop anti-Muslim riots in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002 when he was chief minister there. After he was elected prime minister two years ago, the Obama administration opted not to ban the leader of a rising democratic power critical to U.S. interests. Rather than hold a grudge, Mr. Modi impressed upon Washington his desire to deepen bilateral relations. He won over the Obama administration relatively easily, but not until this trip did he demonstrate the respect he has earned in Congress—which has been the source of several tension points, thanks to lawmakers’ criticism of India’s human rights record and visa policies that New Delhi has lambasted as discriminatory to Indian workers in the U.S.

As I wrote Monday, a major objective of both leaders was for this trip to amplify the countries’ shared valuesconvergent interests, and depth of the relationship. This was meant to help signal that U.S.-India ties are poised to remain strong whoever is elected in November. Both the joint statement issued after Mr. Modi’s meeting with the president and the prime minister’s congressional address referred to a “natural” and “indispensable” relationship; joint bedrock beliefs in freedom and democracy; and similarities between both nations’ founders. One of the largest applause lines in Mr. Modi’s  speech was his reference to the 3 million-strong Indian-American community, which is often cited by both governments as a natural bridge.

For all the talk of defense as the pillar of the U.S.-India relationship, climate change occupies an increasingly critical position as well. Climate change and “clean energy” were a long section of the joint statement, which pledged stepped-up collaborations with U.S. financing of and technology for more environmentally-friendly energy in India. The Modi administration has interest in low-carbon energy projects (though it has not said explicitly that it will pursue emissions-reduction policies). Perhaps in part because of the public health consequences of India’s air-pollution levels, New Delhi no longer reflexively argues that it has a right to pollute for economic development. India’s greater receptivity to mitigating climate change is a boon for bilateral relations.

The trip produced deals on energy and educational exchanges, but final terms were not reached on the biggest pending projects—significantly, a plan to have Westinghouse help build nuclear reactors in India advanced but isn’t complete; also still pending is an accord allowing the U.S. and India to use each other’s military facilities for refueling and repairs. Additionally, while the joint statement said the United States would join the Paris Agreement climate accord this year, it said only that New Delhi would “work toward this shared objective.” The Obama administration wants India to formally join the accord before the U.S. presidential election, moving the agreement one step closer to enforcement (at which point nations cannot opt out for a period of four years, so the next U.S. president would not be able to withdraw).

For Mr. Obama’s legacy and for the good of the overall relationship, U.S. and Indian officials will want to reach closure soon on other pending initiatives.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author.



FIVE WARS: A Soldier’s Journey to Peace


Join the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana on Thursday, May 25th at the Tim Faulkner Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky for a Memorial Day special edition of the ‘World @ Home’ Monthly Speaker Series. This May, we’ll be welcoming COL Fred Johnson, USA (Ret.).

Event Description:

This free WAC exclusive book pre-release and lecture will discuss Fred Johnson’s book, “FIVE WARS: A Soldier’s Journey to Peace” and will be followed by a book-signing.

Media Sponsor: 89.3 WFPL NEWS

Discussion Moderated By: WAC Vice Chair and Retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Rob Givens

Event Agenda:

5:30 P.M. | Event Registration and Networking Reception
6:00 P.M. | Program Commences
7:00 P.M. | Conclusion of Program and Book Signing


General Public (Non-WAC Members and WAC Free Network Members) | Presentation  = FREE
World Affairs Council Paid Members* | Presentation = FREE

*[Members include: Student Backpackers ($25 level), World Travelers ($100 level), & Global Leaders ($250 level)]


To register for this event:

WAC has recently transferred to a new online ticketing service! You will now be able to register for events and/or purchase tickets online all in the same place with a lower transaction fee. With this change, all WAC paying members (Student Backpacker, World Traveler, and Global Leader members), free network members and non-members will register and/or purchase tickets through the same webpage. Complimentary tickets for paying members can be claimed on the same page. If you have any questions or concerns about this new process, please feel free to contact our office at 502-561-5422 or at Thank you!


WAC Paying Members, Free Network Members and Non-members alike — please click below to register for the event:





Meet our Featured Guest:

Fred Johnson is a retired Infantry Colonel who served 29 years in the United States Army.

Since retiring from the Army, Fred has continued his service, now in the Louisville, Kentucky, as the Development Officer for Kentucky Educational Television. Prior to his role at KET, Johnson was the director of workplace giving at Louisville’s Fund for the Arts, served as chief operations officer for Let’s Grow! Kentucky and was also the director of recruiting operations at the U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Before launching his career in fund development, Johnson – who holds a master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa. – enjoyed a 29-year career in the U.S. Army, during which time he was promoted to colonel and recognized with two Legions of Merit, a Bronze Star with valor device and three Bronze Stars for service.

He first went to war in 1991 during Desert Storm and participated in the liberation of Kuwait. In 1996, he participated in Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia, which helped end Serbian genocide of Bosnian Muslims. In 2006-2007, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and at the height of the Surge, Fred received the Bronze Star for Valor during Operation Arrowhead Ripper and the liberation of Baqubah from Al Qaeda. In his last combat deployment, Fred was the advisor to the most senior military officer in the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Army Chief of Staff, as part of a NATO training mission. Prior to that, he commanded the Accessions Support Brigade at Fort Knox and commanded the Brigade Troops Battalion and served as the Deputy Commander for 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Mosul, Baghdad, and Baqubah, Iraq. Johnson also served in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm and in Bosnia during Operation Joint Endeavor.

Johnson is an active supporter of the arts in Louisville and is the co-founder and development manager of Shakespeare with Veterans, a Kentucky Shakespeare program dedicated to helping veterans deal with the challenges transitioning from military service and overcoming combat trauma and PTSD.

Fred is from Centralia, Illinois, received his undergraduate degree in government and sociology from Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina and holds two Master’s Degrees in military arts and science from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He is married to Dr. Laura Johnson and his daughter Madelyn attends DePaul University in Chicago. He recently completed and published his memoir, titled “Five Wars: A Soldier’s Journey to Peace,” which is scheduled for release on Memorial Day 2017.