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US Secretary of State John Kerry hails Narendra Modi for inviting Sharif for swearing-in ceremony

Washington: US Secretary of State John Kerry has praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for inviting his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony which he described as the first step towards improving relations between the two neighbours.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns in New Delhi earlier this month

"Prime Minister Modi took the important first step of inviting Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration. Both men are business-minded leaders who want to create opportunity for their people," Kerry told a Washington-audience at an event organised by the Centre for American Progress (CAP), a US think-tank.

"I talked to Nawaz Sharif after his visit there. He was very encouraged, thought it was positive, possibilities he understood. So improved trade is a win-win for both countries and both peoples," he said.

"I know that there are plans for the commerce secretaries and foreign secretaries (of the two countries) to meet in the coming weeks in order to build on that. I commit to you that the United States will do everything we can to encourage India and Pakistan to work together and improve the prospects for both prosperity and stability in the region," Kerry said referring to the series of meetings being planned between officials of India and Pakistan.

Kerry said Modi understands the opportunities that regional connectivity provides for India and for a more stable, prosperous region.

"And by inviting leaders from around the region to his swearing-in, and by bringing them together to speak about connecting their economies as one of his first orders of business, he is eager for India to play a leading role. And guess what? So are we," he said.

"Nowhere is that leadership more critical than in improving cross-border trade and relations between India and Pakistan," said the Secretary of State, endorsing Modi's move in this regard.

Kerry said he is convinced that just as the US and India can do more to create shared prosperity, so can India and its neighbours.

"Simply from the size of South Asia's market 1.6 billion consumers and from India's geography, sitting at the centre of this dynamic Asian continent, the opportunities are leaping out at us. They're just enormous. And just to underscore how untapped this potential is, consider this: South Asia is the least integrated economic region in the world. Fastest growing region in the world, Southeast Asia," he noted.

Observing that India has already shown a deep commitment to regional stability with generous investments in Afghanistan, Kerry said at this critical moment of transition and in the coming months, support from all across the international community will be vitally important.

US is looking forward to working also with India on this, and looks forward to India engaging with its neighbours so that Afghanistan's connections to the region and the world are defined by the opportunity they can create together, he said.

"Far beyond Afghanistan, India is assuming greater responsibilities for regional and global security. As India plays an increasingly global role, its interests are served by forging strong partnerships on a broad range of issues. Among South Asian nations and within international organisations, India should be a global leader," he said.

"That's why President Barack Obama voiced his clear support for a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member."

"For several years, India has been a major partner in the fight against piracy in the Strait of Malacca and off the Horn of Africa. Even as we speak, India and the US are participating in RIMPAC and Malabar joint naval exercises," Kerry said adding that US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel will explore deepening possibilities of the relationship with India.

Kerry's visit to lay the groundwork for Modi's US visit

The India visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry later this week would lay the groundwork for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Washington in September to meet President Barack Obama, an American official said today.

"Secretary Kerry's visit underscores the importance of the US-India partnership, and will lay the groundwork for Prime Minister Modi's September visit to the United States," State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

Kerry is scheduled to leave Washington for New Delhi later today to co-chair the fifth annual India-US Strategic on July 31 along with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Kerry would be accompanied by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who will lead discussions to strengthen economic ties between the two countries.

Other members of the administration, including Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Francis Taylor and NASA Associate Administrator Michael O'Brien, are also expected to join the trip.

"In addition to holding the Strategic Dialogue, Kerry will meet Modi, the first cabinet-level meeting with a US official since the inauguration of the new Indian government," Psaki said.

Discussion will cover the full range of bilateral issues, including expanding bilateral trade, tackling climate change, improving India's energy security through cooperation in clean energy and energy access, and expanding the already robust people-to-people ties, she said.

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