(Recasts with Indian sources)
NEW DELHI, June 5 Indian Prime Minister Narendra
Modi hopes to accept an invitation from President Barack Obama
to visit Washington this fall, an Indian government source said
on Thursday, signalling a new start in ties for a leader once
denied a U.S. visa.
The Times of India and the Hindustan Times reported earlier
that Modi, who swept to power in a general election last month,
had already accepted the invitation for talks in September.
But the source told Reuters the final details of the visit,
proposed by Obama when he called to congratulate Modi on his
general election victory on May 16, had not yet been set.
"We are working on dates with the USA," the source said.
"They went out of the way."
The U.S. embassy declined to comment ahead of a visit by
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal to New Delhi on
Friday for the first meetings with the new administration since
it took office.
Biswal is expected to meet Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj
and it is possible that Modi's trip could be announced at the
end of her visit.
India and the United States are keen to boost security and
economic ties, and the Obama administration has set a goal of
quintupling annual bilateral trade to $500 billion.
The summit would mark a significant upgrade from what was
earlier expected to be an encounter between Modi and Obama on
the sidelines of the annual U.N. general assembly in New York.
Modi, 63, a former chief minister of Gujarat, was refused a
U.S. visa over sectarian strife in the western Indian state in
2002 in which more than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were
killed. He has denied any wrongdoing and an Indian Supreme Court
inquiry found no case to answer.
The U.S. ambassador to India met Modi earlier this year, as
opinion polls put his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on course for
an election victory. U.S. officials had said a visa and an
invitation to meet would probably be forthcoming if Modi won.
Modi wants to cautiously open up the Indian economy to
foreign investment to boost growth and job creation.
His new government is expected to announce that it will
allow foreign online retailers to sell their own products in
India, a major business opportunity for players such as Amazon.
Lisa Curtis, a South Asia specialist at The Heritage
Foundation, said a Modi visit would be an opportunity to put
U.S.-India trade ties back on track. The two countries have
sparred in recent months over trade policies and patent laws.
"President Obama made a good move by inviting Narendra Modi
to visit Washington and he has reciprocated by accepting the
invitation," Curtis told CNN-IBN TV news.
India is widely perceived in Washington as a serial trade
offender, with U.S. firms unhappy about imports of everything
from shrimp to steel pipes, which they say threaten jobs, as
well as a lack of fair access to the Indian market.
New Delhi has urged the Obama administration not to fall
prey to special interest groups and consider trade issues in the
context of wider economic and strategic ties between the two
(Reporting by Douglas Busvine and Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by
Clarence Fernandez and Sonya Hepinstall)