New Delhi: US President Donald Trump will make his first official visit to India later this month, capping weeks of speculation on the trip that is expected to witness deepening of defence cooperation and signing of a trade pact.
“President @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS will travel to India from February 24-25 to visit Prime Minister @narendramodi! The trip will further strengthen the US-India strategic partnership and highlight the strong and enduring bonds between the American and Indian people," the White House said in a Twitter post.
New Delhi, on its part, said Trump’s two-day, two-city visit would further bolster the strategic partnership between the two democracies.
Trump will be the fourth consecutive US president to visit India since Bill Clinton’s trip in 2000. Clinton’s successor, George H.W. Bush, visited in 2006 and Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, came twice—in 2010 and 2015. The visits are illustrative of how far ties between the two countries—once dubbed “estranged democracies" for the evident lack of warmth in ties—have progressed. India was once seen on the side of the erstwhile Soviet Union during the Cold War years and the US as an ally of Pakistan.
“Trump’s decision shows continuity in US policy and that he himself attaches importance" to ties with India, said Arun K. Singh, a former Indian ambassador to the US.
Trump’s visit has raised hopes that both countries will work out a limited trade deal to lessen India’s trade surplus with the US. Once at $30 billion, the surplus in India’s favour has now narrowed to $16 billion, said Indian government officials. Bilateral trade in 2018 stood at an estimated $142.1 billion.
The Trump administration has been pressing India to reduce tariffs to narrow the trade surplus. New Delhi, on its part, has argued that it is already a major buyer of US energy and has also ramped up its defence purchases from the US in recent years.
Ahead of the visit, New Delhi is expected to approve a $2.6 billion deal for military helicopters from US defence contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., an Indian official said. India’s Cabinet Committee on Security is likely to clear an order for 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters for the Indian Navy in the days ahead, the official said. The helicopters are expected to be bought under a government-to-government deal through the US foreign military sales route.
On Monday, the US State Department said it had approved an Indian request for an Integrated Air Defence Weapon System for an estimated $1.87 billion.
An invitation to Trump was extended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his trip to the White House in June 2017. New Delhi renewed its invitation to Trump to visit India as the chief guest of the Republic Day event last year. It was reiterated by defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S. Jaishankar when they called on Trump after the 2+2 ministerial dialogue in December.
The announcement of Trump’s trip follows his impeachment acquittal in the US Senate last week.
Offering details of the visit, India’s external affairs ministry said in a statement: “During the visit, President Trump and the First Lady will attend official engagements in New Delhi and Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and interact with a wide cross section of Indian society." This indicates that a public event—along the lines of the “Howdy Modi" event in Houston, which was attended by about 50,000 people in September and also drew Trump—would take place during the Gujarat leg of the visit.
“The global strategic partnership between India and the US is based on trust, shared values, mutual respect and understanding, and marked by warmth and friendship between the peoples of the two countries," the statement added.
Coinciding with the announcement of Trump’s trip was a visit by a delegation from the US Nuclear Energy Institute to India starting Monday.
The mission will hold meetings with Indian officials to discuss policy support for US nuclear exports to India, besides promoting US products and services to Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd and other potential customers, the Nuclear Energy Institute said in a statement.