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Trump accepts Narendra Modi’s invite for India visit, commits to India-US ties

LiveMint logoLiveMint 27-06-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump on Tuesday pledged their commitment to the India-US strategic partnership with Trump underlining that India had a “true friend” in him and that the relationship between the two countries had “never been stronger” nor “better” after face-to-face talks with Modi at the White House. As a mark of his commitment to the India-US relationship, Trump has accepted an invitation to visit India.

And as if to further underline the US commitment to the India relationship—over which there had been some question marks after the change in the US administration—the US State Department overnight Tuesday announced the designation of Syed Salahuddin, head of the United Jihad Council (an umbrella organisation formed by Pakistan for unified command and control over the anti-Indian militant groups operating in Kashmir) as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist”. Salahuddin is also the head of the Kashmiri militant group, the Hizbul Mujahideen.

A consequence of this designation—seen as a big boost for India—is that “all of Salahuddin’s property and interests in property subject to United States jurisdiction are blocked”.

Trump’s assertion of his commitment to the India-US partnership and the US State Department move are being seen as key to solidifying the India-US strategic relationship against the backdrop of Trump assuming office as US President and his seeming penchant for riling nearly all traditional allies and partners of the US since taking office on 20 January.

There were also apprehensions in India as to whether the two leaders would be able to develop a bond of friendship—something akin to what Modi was able to do with former US president Barack Obama which brought the two countries closer in a strategic embrace. But those apprehensions seem to have been put to rest, at least for the moment, with the two leaders warmly shaking hands on more than one occasion and Modi hugging Trump at one point.

Emphasising common ground

Trump on Monday brought up irritants in the relationship over trade and market access issues but the emphasis seemed to be finding common ground between the two leaders and the two countries.

Also read: Highlights of the first Modi-Trump meeting

Trump announced that his daughter Ivanka—seen as a close advisor to the president—would lead the US delegation to Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) to India later this year. The GES is a key foreign policy initiative of former president Obama to bring together global entrepreneurs and innovators with India hosting its next edition. The event was expected to be a show of camaraderie between the two countries, and Ivanka’s now confirmed participation is expected to lend importance and gravitas to the event.

In his remarks, Trump recalled that during his election campaign he had said that India would have a “true friend” in the White House if he were elected president of the US and “that is exactly what you have a true friend”.

The US-India relationship thrived on “shared values including shared commitment to democracy”, Trump said before declaring that “the relationship between India and the United states has never been stronger has never been better”.

Trade and commercial ties

In comments on trade, Trump said that it was “important that barriers be removed to the export of US goods into your market and that we reduce our trade deficit with your country”.

Bilateral trade between India and the US is at $115 billion with India having the advantage.

With Trump elected on a pro-jobs ticket and his stated intent of “making America great again” by drawing more investment back home with incentives to industry and cuts on immigration to secure more US jobs for Americans, there was concern in India that trade would emerge as a major irritant in its ties. ####SUBBOX####

There were questions about whether Modi’s “Make in India” campaign, which is aimed at attracting foreign domestic capital and technology to boost India’s manufacturing sector, would run counter to Trump’s plan to retain US capital and investment to boost jobs and the US economy. India is also concerned about Trump’s anti-immigration stance and bills introduced in the US Congress to cut down the number of H1B visas—mainly sought by Indians working in the IT sector.

Trump referred to Indian private aviation companies ordering 100 aircraft from Boeing as a sign of growing commercial links between the two as well as thanked India for ordering military equipment from the US, though he did not specify what precisely it was. Prior to Modi’s departure, there were reports that India was seeking $2 billion worth of unmanned drones from the US for its navy.

In his remarks, Modi stressed on the “convergence” between his vision for India and Trump’s “Make America Great Again” which he said would give new opportunities for the bilateral relationship to flourish.

Boosting “trade, commercial and investment links” will be a common priority of both countries, Modi said. “It is my firm view that a strong and successful America is in the interest of India. And similarly, India’s development and its increasing role in global affairs is in the interest of the US,” he said.

Terrorism

Trump, on his part, underlined another common thread in the strategic ties with his reference to radical Islamic terrorism, which he said, “We will destroy.”

Also read: Donald Trump urges Narendra Modi to fix trade deficit

“Both our nations have been struck by the evils of terrorism, and we are both determined to destroy terrorist organisations and the radical ideology that drives them,” he said.

Modi added that both delegations had “discussed the serious challenges of terrorism, extremism, and radicalisation, which are the major challenges facing the world today”. “And we have agreed to enhance our cooperation in fighting against these scourges. Fighting terrorism and doing away with the safe shelters, sanctuaries, and safe havens will be an important part of our cooperation,” he said.

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