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Terror, trade top agenda of Modi-Trump meeting today

LiveMint logoLiveMint 25-06-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will sit down for his first face-to-face talks with US President Donald Trump on Monday in a meeting that is expected to set the tone and tenor of India’s bilateral relations with the US in the coming years.

Modi, who arrived in Washington on Sunday, will be at the White House for the talks that will cover terrorism, economic and commercial cooperation and other issues.

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The visit comes at a time when the US is looking at formulating a new policy on Afghanistan against the backdrop of a new Pentagon report which says Pakistan is “the most influential external actor affecting” stability in Afghanistan and calls India the “most reliable friend” of Kabul.

Modi’s visit comes amid reports that India is seeking a $2 billion arms deal with the US that could result in the purchase of 22 unarmed Predator drones. India, a big buyer of US arms, was recently named by Washington as a major defence ally. With Trump looking to revitalize American businesses, India’s desire to buy US arms could go down well with the administration.

Trump looked forward to “advancing our common priorities —fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth and reforms and expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters.

Ahead of Modi’s arrival, Trump—seemingly setting the stage for the upcoming talks—in a Twitter post on Saturday said: “Look forward to welcoming India’s PM Modi to @WhiteHouse on Monday. Important strategic issues to discuss with a true friend!”

Look forward to welcoming India's PM Modi to on Monday. Important strategic issues to discuss with a true friend!

— President Trump (@POTUS)

Analysts in India are however warning against any undue expectations of the visit. C.U. Bhaskar, director at the Society for Policy Studies thinktank, said the “challenge for Modi is to ascertain the Trump commitment to the bilateral” relationship. “For India, the more recent Trump policy posturing has been less than favourable.”

India has shared a comfortable working relationship with the Barack Obama administration, and signals from Trump in recent months have been confusing for the Modi government.

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Meanwhile, leading US congressmen have called on Trump to press Modi to remove barriers to US trade and investment when they meet on Monday.

“Many sectors of the Indian economy remain highly and unjustifiably protected, and India continues to be a difficult place for American companies to do business,” they wrote.

Since his election, Trump has reportedly told Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he was ready to play any role desired by Pakistan to resolve the country’s outstanding problems.

A major concern 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.

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India has taken a dim view of Trump citing India while pulling out of the Paris climate change accord. “India makes its participation (in the accord) contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries,” Trump had said.

In the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections, Trump attended an Indian-American event organized by the Republican Hindu Coalition – seen as a rare first by a presidential candidate. He then termed India as a “key strategic ally” and promised that if voted to power, India and the US would become “best friends.”

His hard-line position on Pakistan and Islamist extremism also won him support from a section in India as did his caustic remarks on China thanks to the yawning US-China trade deficit.

####SUBBOX####

But since his election, Trump has sent out different indications on Pakistan and China – two key strategically important issues for India.

With North Korea speeding up its ballistic missile programme, Trump seems to have changed his mind about challenging China and instead opted to secure Beijing’s cooperation in putting a lid on North Korea’s strategic ambitions.

Bilateral ties have also been scarred by attacks on Indians and people of Indian origin in the US.

“There are a lot of issues to talk about and when leaders discuss these, they give direction to their governments on how to proceed,” said a person familiar with the developments.

“Both Modi and Trump pride themselves on being natural deal-makers. It will be instructive to see how they deal with each other on Monday and how this will impact the bilateral relationship,” Bhaskar said.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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