NEW DELHI (AP) — The U.S. ambassador met with India's top Hindu nationalist politician on Thursday for the first time since he was refused a U.S. visa for failing to stop months of deadly religious rioting in his home state in 2002.
The embassy said the meeting between Ambassador Nancy Powell and Narendra Modi was part of an effort to reach out "to senior leaders of India's major political parties in advance of the upcoming elections," in which Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party is threatening to unseat the scandal-plagued Congress Party.
Relations between the U.S. and India have been strained recently by trade disputes as well as the December arrest and strip-search of an Indian diplomat in New York.
Powell and Modi focused their meeting in Gandhinagar, the capital of Modi's home state of Gujarat, on regional security issues, human rights and trade," the embassy said in a statement.
"The United States and India are moving forward with a strategic partnership that is broad and deep," the embassy said.
TV stations broadcast silent images from the meeting — showing a smiling Modi offering Powell a bouquet of yellow and red roses, as well as the two of them sitting at a table.
Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid dismissed the meeting as a routine diplomatic affair, but he criticized Modi's general silence over the riots, saying that "someone seeking high office, during whose watch these things happened, I think owes one word of explanation, if not an apology."
Modi is credited with turning his state into an industrial haven, but critics have questioned whether he can be a truly secular leader in a multicultural nation.
He was denied a U.S. visa in 2005 for alleged complicity in the riots in Gujarat, where he's served as the top elected official since 2001. More than 1,000 people died in the violence, mostly Muslims.
Modi has denied any wrongdoing and was never charged with a crime. But critics say he did little to stop the three months of rioting.
While no U.S. ambassadors have met with Modi since he became Gujarat's chief minister in 2001, lower level U.S. diplomats have.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday that U.S. visa policy had not changed, but she declined to speak to the specifics of Modi's case.
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