- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A man who was barred from entering the country just 10 years ago was welcomed on Capitol Hill with multiple standing ovations as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a joint session of Congress Wednesday, saying India can be an “indispensable partner” for the U.S. in the world’s most dynamic region.

Without mentioning China by name or the escalating disputes over control of the South China Sea, the India leader expressed concern about what he said were rising tensions in Asia, and offered New Delhi’s help to “ensure security of the sea lanes and commerce and freedom of navigation on seas.”

“In Asia, the absence of an agreed security infrastructure creates uncertainty,” Mr. Modi said. “Our engagement can make a difference by promoting cooperation, not dominance. A strong India-U.S. partnership can anchor peace, prosperity and stability from Asia to Africa, and from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.”

Although four Indian prime ministers had previously addressed joint sessions of Congress, the honor capped a remarkable political and diplomatic journey for the 65-year-old Mr. Modi.

A Hindu nationalist, he came under criticism after deadly Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in 2002 when he was governor of the western state of Gujarat. The Indian Supreme Court later ruled that there was no evidence to charge Mr. Modi with a crime, but he was nevertheless denied a U.S. visa in 2005 by the State Department

President Obama ended the ban after Mr. Modi’s election as prime minister in 2014. Once in office, Mr. Modi has sketched out an ambitious plan to deepen ties with the U.S. and cement India’s position as a rising global economic superpower, one whose 7.6 percent annual growth rate now surpasses that of China.

Frequently interrupted by applause, Mr. Modi commended the U.S. lawmakers gathered in the House chamber for sending “a clear message to those who preach and practice terrorism for political gains,” particularly in the volatile South Asian region.

“Terrorism remains the biggest threat,” Mr. Modi said. “Although its shadow is spreading across the world, it is incubated in India’s neighborhood.

“The need of the hour is to deepen our security and cooperation, and base it on a policy that isolates those who harbor, support and sponsor terrorists,” he said.

President Obama has wooed the Indian leader as a key player in the success of the global climate agreement reached in Paris late last year. One of the world’s biggest polluters, India’s participation in the pact to limit greenhouse gas emissions is seen as critical to the success of the deal.

On Tuesday, after an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Obama, Mr. Modi said that India would begin working toward the ratification of the Paris accord, and he told lawmakers Wednesday that protecting the environment is “central” for the U.S. and India’s shared vision of the world.

“We are working together not just for a better future for ourselves but for the whole world,” Mr. Modi said. “This has also been the goal of our efforts in G-20, the East Asia Summit and in climate change summits.”

Mr. Modi’s congressional speech created a wave of excitement across Capitol Hill. Enthusiastic Indian-Americans waved Indian flags as the prime minister passed by. Mr. Modi pointed to the 3 million Indian-Americans as a sign of deepening bilateral ties, saying they “symbolize the best of both societies.”

In a line that earned a laugh from lawmakers and yet another standing ovation, he noted at one point that Americans of Indian descent “are among your best CEOS, academics, astronauts, scientists, economists, doctors — even spelling bee champions.”

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