New Delhi: US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell will meet Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi this week, marking a change in stance since the US denied the Bharatiya Janata Party leader a visa in 2005 over the 2002 Gujarat riots.
US ambassador to India Nancy Powell. Pic: AFP
External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the US embassy had requested for the meeting "quite some time ago" with Modi.
Addressing a briefing, Akbaruddin said the US ambassador's request to meet Modi "has been fixed for this week".
"It is normal for foreign diplomats and ambassadors of different countries to make a request to the ministry of external affairs to facilitate meetings with constitutionally elected functionaries of states, and quite some time ago they asked the MEA... we did facilitate and did communicate that they could proceed with the meeting with the Gujarat chief minister, and it is a normal courtesy we extend to foreign heads of missions," he said.
The meeting is likely to take place in Gujarat Thursday.
"We can confirm the appointment (between Modi and Powell)," a State Department spokesperson said in Washington in response to reports that Powell made the request to meet Modi.
"This is part of our concerted outreach to senior political and business leaders which began in November to highlight the US-India relationship," the spokesperson said, without commenting on the possible date of the meeting, possibly in Ahmedabad.
The US revoked Modi's visa in 2005 under a law barring entry of foreign officials seen as responsible for "severe violations of religious freedom". He has not applied for a US visa since then.
Since Modi's emergence as a national leader, the US business lobby has reached out to him. Three Republican lawmakers accompanied a US business delegation that met him in Ahmedabad last year. A senior US diplomat also attended that meeting.
But with the US and Indian rights and religious groups pushing hard against a visa for Modi, Washington has stuck to its stand that there has been no change in its visa policy for the BJP leader.
However, the State Department has of late changed its formulation, saying Modi was "welcome to apply for a visa and await a review like any other applicant".
Officials also said the US was ready to do business with any government that emerges from India's upcoming election.
Meanwhile, the White House parried questions about a visa for Modi.
"I would refer questions about visas to the State Department," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday when asked whether President Barack Obama had been briefed about the denial of a US visa to Modi.
The State Department had revoked his visa in 2005 over the sectarian riots in Gujarat, in which over 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed.
The US and India have forged friendly ties with bilateral trade close to $100 billion.
Among Western envoys who have met Modi are German Ambassador Michael Steiner and British High Commissioner James Bevan. The European Union was the first to end the boycott of Modi.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters: "It is up to the US to decide. As far as we are concerned, there is a red line beyond which diplomats can't go."
Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia described this as a routine meeting. "Diplomats keep holding such meetings."