Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump’s historic meeting went well on economic and defence ties. Eliminating terrorism remained the top-most priority for both the leaders.
Defence and security issues, counter-terrorism, Afghanistan, the Indian Ocean, Middle East, trade ties on energy and digital partnership were among the many issues which dominated the discussions between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump during their first meeting on June 27, 2017, in the White House. President Trump praised Prime Minister Modi for rolling out the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and described it as the “largest tax overhaul in India’s history”.
Prime Minister Modi was on a three- day trip to the US as part of his three- nation tour. It was his fifth visit to the US after taking over as Prime Minister in May 2014 and the first after the Trump administration came to power early this year. And when both the leaders met, they were all praise for each other. While the US President reiterated that India has a true friend in the White House, the Indian leader appreciated Trump for his efforts in enhancing bilateral ties. The leaders engaged in a one-on-one conversation in the Oval Office, then moved on to delegation-level talks in the Cabinet Room and finally ended with a ‘working dinner’, the first of its kind under the new US administration.
During the joint press briefing after the meeting, President Trump lauded Prime Minister Modi for his leadership skill. “You’ve done a great job. Economically, India’s doing very well,” and added he is keen to work with Prime Minister Modi to remove ‘barriers’ in trade between the two countries. “I look forward to working with you to create jobs in our countries, to grow our economies and to create a trade relationship that is fair and reciprocal.”
“The relationship between India and the US has never been stronger and better. India is the fastest growing economy in the world. We hope we will be catching up with you very soon.”
− President Donald Trump
Terror was on the top of the agenda, and a little ahead of the meeting, the US declared Pakistani terror group Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin as a specially designated global terrorist. In a joint statement, India and the US asked Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice perpetrators of terror attacks like 26/11, Pathankot, and other cross-border attacks perpetrated by Pakistan- based terror groups. “Destroying terrorists and safe havens will be our (joint) aim. Eliminating terrorism is among the top-most priorities for both nations,” said the Indian Prime Minister.
Days before the PM’s US visit, the US State Department cleared the sale of 22 unmanned Guardian drones to India, manufactured by California-based General Atomics. The Indian Navy would be using them for surveillance to keep a vigil over the Indian Ocean. Aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin also announced an agreement with Tata Advanced Systems to produce f-16 planes in India, if it won an Indian Air force contract. The US and India look forward to working together on advanced defence equipment and technology at a level commensurate with that of America’s closest allies and partners, said the joint statement. President Trump and Prime Minister Modi pledged to deepen defence and security cooperation, building on the United States’ recognition of India as a major defence partner.
Talking to reporters after the meet, foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said: “The fact that today we are major partners in exercises with each other, all these underline the fact that India and the US recognize each other as key defence partners. This was really an occasion for us to send a message that India was a reliable dependable partner and that was fully reciprocated on the American side.”
Implementation of the “White Shipping” data sharing arrangement, which enhances collaboration on the maritime domain awareness, was announced and the US President welcomed PM Modi’s support for the US to join as an observer in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium. The leaders also spoke on exploring new maritime exercises similar to the Malabar naval exercise involving the US, Japan and India. “President Trump and I have also spoken about strengthening bilateral defence technology and our trade and manufacturing partnership, which we believe will be mutually beneficial to us,” said the Prime Minister. On the energy deals, President Trump said the United States is looking forward to exporting more energy, including contracts to sell American natural gas. These energy contracts “are being negotiated and we will sign – trying to get the price up a little bit,” he said.
President Trump said the relationship between India and the US has never been stronger and better. “India is the fastest growing economy in the world. We hope we will be catching up with you very soon.” Modi was also not far behind and admired Trump for his vast and successful experience in the business world which should lend an aggressive and forward-looking agenda to Indo-US relations. He also invited Ivanka Trump, to lead the US delegation to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India. He said, “I look forward to welcome your daughter to India for the entrepreneurship summit.”
While the media was expecting some news on the H1B visa programme which has been worrying some section in India since the US President signed an executive order in April for tightening the rules of the H1B visa programme, nothing was heard.
Prime Minister Modi and the President Trump have a lot in common. Both had dynamic like levels by the media and were voted to power with absolute majority; for both businesses come first with ‘Make in India’ and ‘America first’ dominating their respective thinking; and they are both big social media players. “I am proud to announce to the media, to the American people and to the Indian people, that Prime Minister Modi and I are world leaders in social media,” said President Trump and added that being on social media makes them more accessible to citizens who voted for them. “We are believers…giving the citizens of our countries the opportunity to hear directly from their elected officials, and for us to hear directly from them. I guess it’s worked very well in both cases.” And for now, both leaders seemed to have played well—praising, inspiring each other and looking ahead.