By Elton Gomes
US President Donald Trump is unlikely to accept India’s invitation to be the chief guest at its Republic Day celebrations, sources told news agency PTI on Sunday.
The US has apparently informed New Delhi that Trump might not be able to attend the event as he will have pressing engagements, including his State of The Union (SOTU) address, around the time India will celebrate its Republic Day.
There has been no official confirmation from the White House. Trump declining the invite could further put a strain on India-US relations. The development comes at a time after India completed the S-400 missile deal with Russia in spite of the threat of sanctions from the US under the CAATSA Act (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).
The development also runs contrary to reports in July that stated that the Trump administration was “favourably considering the invite.” The invite was sent in April 2018 and was followed up by many rounds of diplomatic engagement.
India also handed over a pre-invite in July to find out if it was convenient for President Trump to attend the celebrations in January, a government official told the Hindustan Times on the condition of anonymity. The official said that there was no response from the White House. No formal response was received from the external affairs ministry despite repeated attempts.
Earlier, in August, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had confirmed that Trump received an invite to visit India. “I know that the invitation has been extended, but I do not believe that a final decision has been made,” Sanders told the media.
Why did Trump decline the invite?
Trump refusing to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations comes weeks after India and the US disagreed over several geopolitical issues. The Trump administration was discontent with India’s insistence on purchasing oil from Iran despite US sanctions on the oil-producing nation.
In addition, there was the complex issue of India facing potential US sanctions. This was after the Modi government decided to go ahead with purchasing the S-400 long-range missile from Russia, which the US considers being within the scope of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
Furthermore, it seems that Trump has a crowded domestic calendar in January. Starting with the mid-term elections in November and the State of the Union address between 21 and 29 January, in addition to some international commitments, Trump appears to have a busy start to 2019. Officials have hence said that Trump’s visit to India appears unlikely.
Setback for Modi government?
With Trump declining India’s invite, the Modi government will now have to look for another head of state who will be able to attend the Republic Day event as chief guest. However, after Trump’s refusal, it appears unlikely that any other key world leader will accept the invitation.
Trump’s visit was ‘not Republic Day specific’, says source
According to a report in Live Mint, PM Modi had extended an invitation to Trump last year in Washington. The report noted that the invitation was still pending and that it was not offered in the context of India’s 2019 Republic Day celebrations. “There is an invitation pending from PM Modi’s visit in 2017…it is not specifically for 26th January,” a person familiar with the development told Live Mint.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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