The United States ended a decade-long boycott on February 13 of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi over deadly religious riots as a top diplomat held talks with the man who could be the next prime minister. Nancy Powell, the US ambassador to India, shook hands with Modi at his official residence in Gujarat where he is the chief minister, before entering closeddoor talks. Powell and her entourage arrived in four official cars at the residence in the state capital Gandhinagar, but she did not speak to waiting reporters.

Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP), is accused by rights groups of turning a blind eye to riots that killed up to 2,000 people in Guarajat in 2002. Most of the victims were Muslims. The United States in 2005 revoked a visa for Modi under a domestic law that bars entry by any foreign official seen as responsible for “severe violations of religious freedom”.

Modi has denied any wrongdoing over the 2002 violence and investigations have cleared him of personal blame, although one of his former ministers was jailed for life for instigating the killing of 97 Muslims. Powell’s meeting with Modi puts the US in line with European nations and Australia, which have already restored ties with him. Opinion polls show Modi and his party are on course to topple the ruling Congress party at general elections expected in May.