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US readies welcome mat, visa for India's new leader

Washington, April 1 (IANS) The US is getting the welcome mat out for whoever may be India’s new prime minister, including the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi, as the law automatically entitles a head of government to a US visa.

“We will work with whoever the people of India decide should lead their country,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters Monday as a Congressional Research Service memo advised law makers regarding visa policy for Modi.

The memo covering queries from lawmakers suggests that Modi, who was denied a US visa in 2005 over his alleged complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots, will be entitled to a US diplomatic visa with full immunity if he becomes prime minister.

“We believe it’s a critical partnership, and we’re moving forward with it,” she said when asked about the recent memo from the bipartisan CRS, which analyses issues of the day for the lawmakers.

Asked if that included Modi, the spokesperson who claimed she had not seen the CRS memo, said: “Well, I think it remains to be seen what the outcome of the election will be, so let’s not try and do too much predicting in here.”

“Secondly, we have a very close relationship with India on a whole host of issues, whether it’s energy, the economy, environmental issues, security issues, a whole host of issues.”

“That has not changed. We look forward to growing that even stronger,” Harf said. “The people of India get to decide who leads their country. We’ll work with whoever they decide.”

The March 18 memo from Ruth Ellen Wasem, specialist in immigration policy at CRS said if Modi “were to become Prime Minister of India, he would automatically be eligible for an A-1 (diplomatic) visa as head of state, regardless of the purpose of his visit”.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) “further provides that the grounds for inadmissibility” excepting specified terrorist grounds and documentary requirements establishing identity “do not apply to those on A-1 visas”, the memo noted.

“This provision, often referred to as diplomatic immunity, allows the President of the United States to proscribe other exceptions to immunity as necessary through rules and regulations.”

The president, however, does have broad authority under the law “to prohibit the entry of any foreign national whom the president deems would be detrimental to the interests of the US”, the memo noted.

Meanwhile, Harf also denied that the sudden resignation of US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell Monday was in any way “related to any tension, any recent situations” between India and the US.

“There’s no big behind-the-scenes story here,” Harf said suggesting it was simply “the end of a distinguished 37-year career” for Powell.

“I think after 37 years, she deserves to retire,” she said. “But I want to dispel any rumours out there that this is related in any, to anything besides her long-planned retirement.”

Harf described India-US relationship as “an incredibly key partnership that will continue under our team there and under whoever is named the next ambassador.”

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