NEW DELHI. For a visit which began with really “low expectations” and was even scaled back to exclude the earlier- planned Houston leg, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fifth visit to the US and his first visit to meet with President Donald Trump went flawlessly. All the right cords were struck and the hugs and warm handshakes indicated a close convergence of views.
Officials who worked behind the scenes to ensure the visit went without a glitch heaved a huge sigh of relief and allowed themselves several pats on the back for a job well done once the Indian Prime Minister’s flight left Andrews Air Force Base. They prepared well and astutely read signals from the White House, especially on issues and emotions that move and guide Trump, thereby setting the right frame for the crucial meetings June 26.
The expectations were low and there was caution given Mr Trump’s pronouncements, partly blaming India for USA pulling out of the Paris climate accord, and the unpredictability of POTUS’ (President of the United States) temperament. There was major concern about key issues like working visas for skilled workers (H1B) and how ‘America First’ could meld best with ‘Make in India’ to bolster the economic partnership. Officials were also concerned about measures to further bolster the global and bilateral counter-terrorism effort to make a tangible impact in India’s neighbourhood.
Some big-ticket business announcements before the meeting, like the over $ 2 billion order for naval drones; 100 civilian aircraft, “which will support thousands and thousands of American jobs”; and the purchase of Westinghouse nuclear reactors, allowed Trump to brag that the partnership was generating jobs for Americans.
Washington responded in equal measure, laying out the red carpet for Mr Modi, who became the first world leader
to be a guest of the Trumps at their first White House dinner for a visiting foreign dignitary. Mr Trump and the First Lady greeted Mr Modi and personally showed him around the White House and hosted him for dinner before seeing him off with hugs and handshakes after close and intense engagements for almost five hours.
The State Department also made a major pre-summit announcement naming Syed Salahuddin, head of the Kashmiri separatist group Hizbul Mujahideen, as a “global terrorist.” This added diplomatic heft to New Delhi’s claims of Pakistani involvement in terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir and placed counter- terrorism cooperation, including in Kashmir, at the nub of the Indo-US bilateral relationship.
According to Ambassador Hardeep Puri, Chairman of RIS and former India Permanent Representative to the UN, “the State Department’s designation of the Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin as a Global Terrorist and the naming of terror groups “including Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, D Company and their affiliates” in a joint US-India statement is of considerable significance.”
Washington’s announcement has singled out Pakistan for admonition. At a time when the Indian state is facing an insurgency type situation in the Kashmir valley, the designation of Salahuddin, who operates out of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, being declared a global terrorist vindicates India’s position about its problems being orchestrated by Pakistan.
“Pakistan will have to think hard and fast when it comes to re-evaluating its Kashmir strategy...the US
move represents a diplomatic masterstroke for the Indian government,” said an editorial in the Daily Times of Pakistan, positing that Modi’s meeting with Trump “not only poses significant challenges for Islamabad — it also places several hurdles in path to Kashmiri self-determination.”
The joint statement issued after the intensive discussions states that “The leaders called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. They further called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot, and other cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based groups.”
President Trump called the security partnership between the United States and India “incredibly important,” and said both nations would work together to destroy terrorist organisations and the radical ideology that drives them.
“We will destroy radical Islamic terrorism,” Mr Trump said at a joint media interaction with the Indian Prime Minister. “Our militaries are working every day to enhance cooperation between our military forces. And next month, they will join together with the Japanese navy in the largest maritime exercise ever conducted in the vast Indian Ocean,” he said, referring to the ‘Malabar’ exercises beginning July 10.
During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Washington in June 2016, he addressed a joint session of the US Congress, a rare honour. Addressing that session, Mr Modi said that the relationship between India and America had overcome the ‘hesitations of history,” going on to say “in every sector of India’s march forward, I see the US as an indispensable partner.” In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Mr Modi spoke of a “growing convergence” between the two countries. The ‘ growing strategic convergence’ is reflected throughout the joint statement issued after their crucial meeting.
What are the takeaways for India from this maiden Indo-US summit meeting in the Trump era?
One, President Trump is keen to continue the “strategic partnership” and “Major Defence Partner” relationship with India begun by his predecessors George W Bush and continued by Barack Obama. Secondly, with his sharp business instincts, which make the economy and jobs his primary motivation, President Trump believes he can do business with India.
Having declared India a Major Defence Partner, the US appears keen to step up on the sale of military hardware to India.
The unmanned Sea Guardian drones, valued around $2 billion, are mentioned in the joint statement. A technical agreement
has also been announced between Lockheed Martin and Tata Advance Systems for co-producing the F-16 aircraft.
The joint statement, ‘ United States and India: Prosperity through Partnership’ outlines the key areas where the partnership will evolve as the two countries celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations between them. “The leaders resolved to expand and deepen the strategic partnership between the countries and advance common objectives. Above all, these objectives include combating terrorist threats, promoting stability across the Indo-Pacific region, increasing free and fair trade, and strengthening energy linkages.”
In references clearly aimed at China, the joint statement, which refers to India and the US as “Democratic Stalwarts in the Indo-Pacific Region” calls upon “all nations to resolve territorial and maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law” and “reiterates the importance of respecting freedom of navigation, over-flight, and commerce throughout the region,” significantly called the ‘Indo-Pacific’.
In a strongly critical reference to China’s Belt and Road Initiative ( BRI), the joint statement states that India and the USA “support bolstering regional economic connectivity through the transparent development of infrastructure and the use of responsible debt financing practices, while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rule of law, and the environment.”
North Korea was severely censured, and while Washington and New Delhi pledged to raise cooperation in Afghanistan while consulting each other on how best to stabilise the situation both in the war-ravaged country and in West Asia.
To promote ‘free and fair’ bilateral trade, “the United States and India plan to undertake a comprehensive review of trade relations with the goal of expediting regulatory processes; ensuring that technology and innovation are appropriately fostered, valued, and protected; and increasing market access in areas such as agriculture, information technology, and manufactured goods and services. President Trump and Prime Minister Modi further committed to strengthening cooperation to address excess capacity in industrial sectors,” the joint statement said.
Beyond the optics, clearly the substance of the meetings between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi went well, with both sides setting a course and charting a new symphony of harmonious convergences in bilateral relations.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the President of United States of America (USA), Mr Donald Trump and the first lady of USA, Melania Trump, at White House, in Washington DC, USA on June 26, 2017
(Above) PM Modi and President Trump at the delegation level talks, at White House (Below) US Secretary of Defence Mr Jim Mattis calls on PM Modi
(Above) PM Modi speaks at the Indian Community Reception, in Washington, DC (Left page) US Secretary of State Mr Rex W Tillerson calls on Mr Modi