NEW DELHI : Barring an unlikely turn in his impeachment process, the stage seems set for a visit by US President Donald Trump to India as early as next month, two people familiar with the developments said on Tuesday. The visit is expected to underline the close strategic partnership between the two countries popularly billed as the world’s oldest and largest democracies.

Discussions are underway between officials on both sides for the visit before the end of Trump’s term in office in November. The first set of dates that officials of both countries are looking at is in February, said one of the people mentioned above. Planning for the visit picked up speed even as India and the US made progress on a trade deal that is aimed at closing the trade gap between the two countries. Both sides are “very close" to an agreement on the matter though a few issues are still to be ironed out.

Plans for the visit, however, hinge on the US president’s impeachment trial process that is expected to start in the US senate in the coming days, said the person mentioned above.

India’s foreign ministry and the US embassy in New Delhi declined to comment on the visit, first reported by Hindustan Times on Tuesday.

India-US ties have warmed rapidly in the past two decades with four presidential visits so far. Cooperation in defence and strategic areas are seen as close with both sides sharing similar positions on terrorism. This is a far cry from the days of the Cold War when India was seen to be close to the erstwhile Soviet Union while the US position was aligned with Pakistan. However, trade disputes between the two sides have become accentuated since Trump took office, with the US push to reduce the approximately $30 billion trade deficit on the part of the US, according to analysts.

An invite to Trump to visit India was extended when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Washington in June 2017. New Delhi had later requested Trump to be the chief guest at the 2019 Republic Day celebrations but the White House had then said the president was unable to participate because of scheduling constraints. New Delhi’s invitation to the US president to visit India was repeated last month when defence minister Rajnath Singh and foreign minister S. Jaishankar called on Trump after a meeting with their US counterparts Mark Esper and Mike Pompeo for their second India-US “2+2" dialogue.

It is unclear whether Prime Minister Modi, who spoke to Trump on 7 January to convey New Year greetings, had once again urged the US president to visit. Nor was it clear whether outgoing Indian ambassador to Washington Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who met Trump in a farewell visit last week, had broached the subject.

Should Trump visit, this would be the fifth US presidential visit since 2000. Then US president Bill Clinton had visited in March 2000, while his successor George Bush visited in 2006. Former US President Barack Obama came to India twice, once in 2010 during his first term in office and then in 2015 as the chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations.

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