By Saarthak Anand
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended his two-day tour of the United States on June 26 with a working dinner, the first of its kind in the White House since Trump took office. The Indian side had tried to tone down expectations by maintaining that the purpose of the visit was to get the two leaders acquainted. India has been forced to press the ‘reset’ button on ties with the US, following Trump’s surprise victory in last year’s election; Modi had a warm relationship with Trump’s predecessor, Obama. It is no secret that Trump does not get along too well with a number of world leaders.
The relationship between the two countries has not been all rosy since Trump assumed office. While Indian-American support was a key catalyst on his road to the White House, Trump has found fault with Indian IT companies, blaming their practice of outsourcing professionals from the subcontinent for the loss of local jobs in the US. Besides, Trump cited the Paris Agreement as biased towards countries like India and China, while pulling out of the deal, something the Indian administration took strong exception to.
Under these circumstances, striking a personal chord with the mercurial President was no easy task for Modi.
The two had a brief discussion in the Oval Office, followed by delegation-level talks in the Cabinet room, after which, they gave a joint press briefing in the Rose Garden. The meeting, marked by a host of hugs and handshakes, went by without any hiccups. Trump assured India that it has “a true friend in the White House”, and Modi, in turn, invited Trump to visit India.
As Trump and Modi pledged to deepen defence and security cooperation between their countries, the US cleared the sale of 22 Guardian drones to India. The $2-3 billion deal boosts India’s maritime intelligence and surveillance capabilities and reaffirms its status as a “major defence partner” of the US. The US government expressed solidarity with India’s stand on terrorism by designating Hizbul Mujahideen head, Syed Salahuddin, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist just hours before the PM’s arrival in the US. In addition, both countries jointly called for Pakistan to “bring to justice perpetrators of 26/11 attacks, Pathankot and other cross-border attacks”. Trump acknowledged the importance of the security partnership between India and the US, recognising both as victims of terrorism. He vowed to destroy “radical Islamic terrorism”. Both nations agreed to work closely to maintain peace and stability in Afghanistan.
In a veiled reference to China, a major rival to the interests of both India and the US, there was a call for “freedom of navigation and solving of territorial and maritime disputes in accordance with international law”, even as the two sides agreed to work towards maritime trade and cooperation.
A strategic partnership
The US reiterated its support for India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). An NSG membership will allow India to commercially produce and sell nuclear power equipment. It will also give a greater access to uranium along with the latest technology in nuclear energy. Trump also welcomed India’s strong support for the US to have an observer status in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, which will give it a greater hold over matters in the region.
The PM has wasted little time in regaining lost ground, having managed to successfully establish a comfortable working relationship with the new White House incumbent. A greater understanding between the two administrations may provide a much-needed counterbalance to the China-Pakistan alliance, helping keep geostrategic threats at bay.
Modi’s attempt to build a personal rapport was evident in his invitation to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, to lead the US delegation at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India.
The trials ahead
Notably, key points of friction were avoided in the press briefing. Among these was the issue of climate change and the Paris Agreement. Trump considers it too generous towards India, saying that it gives the nation “billions and billions of dollars”, and allows it to double its coal production, while the US must cut down on its own. Another missing point was the issue of H1B visas, which he blames for job losses in his country. These issues must be ironed out sooner rather than later.
The two leaders, thriving on their own brands of nationalism, one reflecting inwards and tearing up old agreements, the other calling for greater globalisation and international cooperation, need to ensure that ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Make in India’ are able to coexist efficiently, instead of damaging one another.
While it will be an overstatement to say that PM Modi’s first visit to the White House under the new administration was groundbreaking, it did triumphantly lay the groundwork to open up new vistas of partnership and cooperation between the two leading democracies of the world.
Featured Image Credits: PMINDIA
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