Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a ‘true friend with whom he had important strategic issues to discuss’, US President Donald Trump tweeted today as the PM arrived in Washington DC for their first bilateral meeting on Monday.
Thanking him for the ‘warm personal welcome’, PM Modi, replying to President Trump’s tweet, said ‘Greatly look forward to my meeting and discussions with you’. Ahead of the much anticipated meeting, the White House on Saturday said that it was ‘seeking to roll out the red carpet’ for PM Modi, adding that it ‘will be the first dinner for a foreign dignitary at the White House under this administration’.
‘Look forward to welcoming India’s PM Modi to at White House on Monday,’ Trump said Saturday on his presidential Twitter account. “Important strategic issues to discuss with a true friend!”
On Monday afternoon, President Trump will host PM Modi at the White House where the two leaders will spend around five hours together, beginning with a bilateral discussion, delegation level talks, followed by a reception and a working dinner.
Defence cooperation, boosting economic ties, combating terrorism and security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region are among the key issues likely to be discussed between the two leaders.
Trump was looking forward to advancing common priorities on fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth, and expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement earlier this month.
The Indian leader will attempt to advance discussions on buying 100 armed Predator drones made by California based General Atomics, and getting U.S. help with India’s plans for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, according to Indian defence ministry sources. Separately, a sale of unarmed patrol drones has been approved ahead of Modi’s arrival, a General Atomics official said.
A high point of the visit would be the US’ approval for supply of 22 unarmed Guardian drones for the Indian Navy that has been held up for years. The over $2 billion drone deal is likely to be held up as evidence that New Delhi is a major defence partner of the US, its biggest arms supplier.
According to sources the officials “are working overtime to complete negotiations on moving the assembly line for the F-16 fighter jet to India to enable Modi and Trump to jointly make an announcement on the deal.”
Climate change, another point of friction, is expected to be an important part of the discussion; the US has said it will seek common ground on the issue. Earlier this month, Donald Trump had accused India of seeking to profit from the Paris climate accord as he announced he was pulling out of the deal this month, drawing a sharp reaction from New Delhi.
Besides, in the appointment of Kenneth Juster as US Ambassador to India which has interpreted as a good move for bilateral ties Trump has signalled he values the partnership.
Ahead of Monday’s meeting, leading US congressmen have written to President Trump to press PM Modi to remove barriers to US trade and investment.
U.S. lawmakers from both parties urged Trump to push India to drop restrictions on trade and investment. “Only through concrete actions that remove actual barriers to trade and investment can the U.S.-India economic relationship flourish,” according to a letter to Trump signed by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, the ranking Democrat on the committee Richard Neal, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, and the panel’s top Democrat Ron Wyden.
The two leaders may pledge deeper defense cooperation, while also discussing a harder line on Pakistan, terrorism in South Asia, and China’s role in the region. A White House official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity said that the U.S. seeks to treat India as a major defense partner, like other close allies.
Despite a $66 billion trading relationship that is India’s second-largest, Trump’s “America First” rhetoric may make it difficult for him to find common ground with a prime minister prioritizing a parallel “Make in India” campaign. Both leaders are trying to boost domestic manufacturing in order to create jobs.
The Trump administration, just days ahead of Modi’s visit, announced an inter-agency review of American support to Pakistan, which may lead to a reduction in US aid for Pak. The Modi government, on its part, wants stronger commitment from the Trump administration to fight Pak-based terror groups, including JeM and LeT.
There is also a concerted effort being made behind the scenes to ensure that both leaders strike a smooth relationship which may set the paradigm for closer ties in the near future. Interestingly, India’s foreign secretary S Jaishankar flew to Washington just ahead of Modi’s visit to meet key figures in the Trump administration and set the tone for the prime minister’s engagement with the US president.
This is a break from protocol. It suggests that both sides wanted to leave absolutely nothing to chance to make the maiden Modi-Trump meeting a success.
While in Washington Modi is also expected to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as Wilbur Ross and Steven Mnuchin, the secretaries of Commerce and Treasury, respectively.
The stage has been set for the big meeting with warm tweets from both Modi and Trump in what is being described as an opportunity to start building chemistry between the two leaders. It is also an opportunity for both sides to set their priorities, building on achievements from the Bush and Obama years.