PM Narendra Modi to meet Donald Trump on 26 June
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New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet US President Donald Trump on 26 June for their first face-to-face talks, seeking to iron out recent wrinkles in India-US relations and impart new momentum to bilateral ties. The Modi-Trump meeting comes in the backdrop of the US withdrawal from the Paris climate deal, which the US president said favours India and China.
Modi will leave for the US on 25 June, a statement from the Indian foreign ministry said on Monday. “Their discussions will provide a new direction for deeper bilateral engagement on issues of mutual interest and consolidation of multi-dimensional strategic partnership between India and the US,” the statement said.
Former Indian ambassador to the US Meera Shankar described the upcoming interaction between the two leaders as an “ice-breaker” of sorts. Modi and Trump would “take stock of the relations and give directions for their future course”, she said, adding that this was important given that the Trump administration was a new one. “It is important that they establish a relationship with each other” and provide the impetus for ties to move forward, she added.
Since assuming office on 20 January, Trump and Modi have spoken on the phone three times with bilateral ties progressing at the same pace as under the previous Obama administration, Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj told reporters last week. “The relationship between India and the US—they (the US) are looking at it as a relationship of mutual benefit,” Swaraj said.
Her comments were in the backdrop of certain frictions in ties between the two countries since Trump assumed office. One of the immediate concerns of India is over a possible reduction by Washington in the number of H-1B visas—many of which are used by Indian nationals working in the information technology sector—in an attempt to curb immigration, as per Trump’s 2016 election promises. Swaraj termed this “a matter of concern” and added that this would be one of the talking points during Modi’s meeting with Trump.
The early days of the Trump administration in office were also marred by attacks on Indians and Indian-origin US citizens. One Indian national, Srinivas Kuchibotla, was shot dead and an Indian-origin US citizen was killed in apparent hate crimes.
Recent comments by Trump that India was getting favourable terms under the 2015 Paris Climate Change accord were also seen as a dampener with Swaraj rebutting Trump’s charge that New Delhi signed the accord in return for billions of dollars in aid as “baseless”. Clarity on Trump’s commitment to the “rebalance” towards Asia—the US policy vis a vis India’s strategic rival China and policy towards Afghanistan, Pakistan and terrorism emanating from the region—could also be talking points during the Modi-Trump meeting.
“I think the assessment (in New Delhi) is that India should get on his (Trump’s) radar. Trump is a distracted president at the moment,” said Harsh Pant, a professor of international relations at the London-based King’s College. He was referring to Trump’s preoccupation with his domestic agenda. Given the mixed signals on India from Trump, Pant said Modi was likely to signal that India was “open to a transactional relationship with the US.”
The discord notwithstanding, ties between the two countries are much warmer now than in the decades of the Cold War when India and the US were seen as on opposite sides—with India perceived on the side of the former Soviet Union and the US viewed as tilting towards Pakistan.
A sign of the warmth in ties has been the four US presidential visits to India since the year 2000—nearly equal to the number of US presidential visits in the decades following India’s independence in 1947. The US is now a key source of defence hardware for India with New Delhi designated as Washington’s “major defence partner”.
One of the major turning points in the relationship was the signing of the 2008 civil nuclear cooperation pact between India and the US which overturned 34 years of US and international embargos against India sourcing technology and equipment to build up its civil nuclear power industry.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking office in 2014, the two countries moved towards a closer strategic embrace with Modi inviting then US president Barack Obama to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade in 2015—the first time since 1950 when India formally became a republic that a US president had been invited to be the guest of honour at the parade.