India's Modi to meet Obama, address Congress next month

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington next month to discuss security and other issues and the Indian leader will be granted the rare honor of addressing both houses of Congress.

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) during a working dinner at the White House with heads of delegations attending the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington March 31, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Files

The White House said Obama and Modi will discuss economic growth, climate change, clean energy, and security and defense cooperation during their June 7 meeting.

It will be Modi’s fourth trip to the United States since he became prime minister in 2014.

“The visit will highlight the deepening of the U.S.-India relationship in key areas,” the White House said in a statement on Friday. The two countries’ partnership is seen as critical in Washington, which is seeking to counterbalance China’s increasing power.

Modi will address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, an opportunity extended to few foreign leaders, the day after the White House meeting, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a tweet.

The invitation is a sharp turnaround for Modi, who was once barred from the United States over massacres of Muslims. Last year there were only two joint addresses to Congress - by Pope Francis and by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, another important U.S. ally in Asia.

In 2005, then-U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration denied Modi a visa, citing a 1998 U.S. law barring entry to foreigners who have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in sectarian riots in Gujarat in 2002 when Modi had just become the state’s chief minister. Modi has denied any wrongdoing, and India’s Supreme Court in 2010 ruled there was no case.

Obama, who has adopted a “pivot to Asia” strategy and is keen to encourage a greater Indian military role in East Asia, quickly dismissed the issue by inviting Modi to the White House as soon as he called to congratulate him on winning the 2014 election.

The United States is also keen to encourage greater business and trade with India.

Progress has been only gradual, but in late March, the chief executive of U.S. nuclear reactor maker Westinghouse Electric said he expected to sign a deal in June to build six reactors in India after marathon negotiations that began more than a decade ago.

The deal would be the first nuclear commercial power project since the United States and India agreed in 2008 to cooperate in the civil nuclear arena. Westinghouse is owned by Japan’s Toshiba Corp.

Reporting by Susan Heavey, Tim Ahmann and David Brunnstrom; Editing by W Simon and Alistair Bell