Modi, who arrived in the US on Sunday, was to get down to talks with Trump later Monday, aimed to determine the tone and tenor of India-US relations in the coming years.
Monday’s meeting is the first face-to-face one between Modi and Trump. It is taking place as both sides seek to boost ties despite differences over trade, the 2015 Paris climate accord and immigration.
“The White House is very interested in making this a special visit," said one senior US official. “We’re really seeking to roll out the red carpet," said the official, according to a Reuters news report.
According to a programme made available by the Indian foreign ministry, Modi and Trump will have one-on-one talks followed by statements to reporters. They will then have a working dinner, the first time Trump has hosted a foreign dignitary to one at the White House, the Reuters report said.
Monday’s first engagement was the meeting with Mattis, who is expected to unveil the new US strategy on Afghanistan next month. This could entail an increase in the number of US troops serving there given a surge in violence in the war-torn country. Any addition to the 8,400 US troops stationed in Afghanistan will be good news for India, which has looked to the US to stabilize Afghanistan and rid the country of the rebel Taliban.
Ahead of Modi’s departure to the US, news reports said India was looking to buy $2 billion worth of US unmanned drones. The move is expected to be welcomed by the US, which is looking at improving its commercial links with Asia’s third largest economy.
Counter-terrorism, besides defence cooperation, was expected to be a common talking point at the meetings Modi was having with Mattis, Tillerson and Trump. India would like the US to lean on Pakistan to stem cross-border terrorism. The US, though, is focused on the spread of the Islamic State in Syria and nearby areas.
Late on Monday night, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay tweeted a photo of Modi and US defence secretary Jim Mattis, with the caption: “First engagement of the day. Mr. Jim Mattis, Secretary of Defence calls on PM @narendramodi."
“Preparing the ground for the meeting between the leaders. Mr. Rex W. Tillerson, Secretary of State calls on PM @narendramodi" Baglay said in another post with a photo of the meeting with Tillerson.
“Mr. Rex Tillerson, @StateDept Secretary held discussions with PM @narendramodi," said a third post from Modi’s official Twitter handle @PMOIndia.
Meanwhile, earlier on Monday, Modi pitched India as an economic opportunity, citing the possibilities for American investments in India’s flagship programmes like the Smart Cities project as well as in aviation and defence.
In a commentary published in the Wall Street Journal, Modi also underlined common strategic objectives that brought the two countries together—like the fight against terrorism and radical ideologies.
“The logic of our strategic relationship is incontrovertible," he said. “The past two decades have been a productive journey of engagement for our mutual security and growth. I expect the next few decades to be an even more remarkable story of ambitious horizons, convergent action and shared growth."
Aware of the new Trump’s administration’s emphasis on the economy, Modi, in his commentary, first touched on the immense economic opportunities that India presents. Since taking office on 20 January, the Trump administration has given priority to US economic revival and growth, with an increased accent on hiring Americans for jobs at home and stress on investments being made within the US that will generate employment.
“In an uncertain global economic landscape, our two nations stand as mutually reinforcing engines of growth and innovation. Confidence in each other’s political values and a strong belief in each other’s prosperity has enabled our engagement to grow," Modi wrote.
Highlighting the Indian contribution to the US economy, Modi noted that Indian companies had invested $15 billion and had a presence in 35 of the 50 states of the US. American firms, on their part, had invested more than $20 billion in India, he said.
Highlighting the advantages of the world’s fastest growing economy to businesses in the world’s largest economy, Modi said: “The transformation of India presents abundant commercial and investment opportunities for American businesses."
“The rollout of the goods and services tax on 1 July will, in a single stroke, convert India into a unified, continent-sized market of 1.3 billion people," Modi wrote of the indirect tax reform that is being billed as India’s most ambitious since independence.
“The planned 100 smart cities, the massive modernization of ports, airports, and road and rail networks, and the construction of affordable housing for all by 2022—the 75th anniversary of India’s independence—are not just promises of great urban renewal within India. These plans also showcase the enormous fruits of our relationships with enterprising US partners—worth many billions of dollars over the next decade alone—together with concomitant new employment opportunities across both societies," he further wrote in his commentary.
Without directly referring to the thorny subject of immigration of skilled workers from India, Modi said: “The creative and entrepreneurial energy of our engineers, scientists and researchers, and their free movement between both countries, continue to help India and the US retain their innovation edge and maintain competitiveness in the knowledge economy."
The issue of a revamp of the H-1B visas—that allow Indian IT professionals to live and work in the US—is an irritant in India-US ties. Modi was expected to raise the issue with Trump during Monday’s meeting.