January 21, 2015

CNAS Press Note: President Obama's Visit to India

By Richard Fontaine

Washington, January 21 – In anticipation of President Obama’s upcoming trip to India, CNAS President Richard Fontaine has written a new Press Note on the key issues the President will address on the trip and the state of U.S.-India relations.

The Press Note is below:

This weekend President Obama will travel to India as “Chief Guest” at the country’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26. In India, the President will discover a political landscape changed dramatically since Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s sweeping electoral victory last May. Coming just four months after Modi’s visit to the United States, Obama’s trip will be long on symbolism and vision. Translating the optics into concrete policy achievements, however, will be a significant challenge, and the U.S. and India are engaged in last-minute negotiations over initiatives that may include a renewal of the defense framework agreement and an announcement on defense coproduction, a modest climate change agreement, and modifications to the nuclear liability framework. Underlying this drive will be a sense on both sides that stronger U.S.-India relations serve as a stabilizing force in Asia and beyond.    

Key issues during the visit will include:

  1. The primacy of economic growth. Modi swept to power aiming to return India to high levels of economic growth that will help the 600 million Indians who still live on two dollars per day. His team’s top domestic and foreign policy priorities can be fairly characterized as the economy, the economy and the economy. Modi may seek speedy U.S. approval of LNG sales to India and encouragement for American private sector investment, and there is some chance of reviving negotiations on the long-stalled bilateral investment treaty.
  2. Defense and climate change. The 2005 bilateral defense framework agreement expires this year.  Renewing it will provide an opportunity for the United States and India to reiterate their commitment to security cooperation, including with a defense coproduction initiative and possibly India’s approval of stalled agreements on logistics and communications.
  3. Civil nuclear. Talks aimed at a breakthrough on the issue of nuclear liability are going down to the wire. Because of existing Indian legislation, American business has not reaped the benefits of the civil nuclear accord, which for years represented the “big idea” in the relationship.
  4. China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Where Pakistan once dominated discussions between U.S. and Indian officials, it has retreated in Indian attention over recent years; Obama is likely to hear more about Beijing’s intentions than those of Islamabad. He’ll also hear Indian concerns about the future of Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal, and reminders that Lashkar e Taiba was present in Afghan training camps before 9/11.

Eight months into the BJP government’s term, Modi’s team is attempting to pursue simultaneously close relations with the United States and its competitors, and to avoid some fundamental choices between America, on the one hand, and China, Russia and Iran on the other – all in the interest of the economic bottom line. Obama’s visit will represent a test of New Delhi’s ability to walk this line while strengthening ties with what has become its most important global partner. 

Mr. Fontaine is available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact JaRel Clay at jclay@cnas.org, or call 202-457-9410.


  • Richard Fontaine

    Chief Executive Officer

    Richard Fontaine is the Chief Executive Officer of CNAS. He served as President of CNAS from 2012–19 and as Senior Fellow from 2009–12. Prior to CNAS, he was foreign policy ad...