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News Analysis

In warm first meeting, Trump and Modi reaffirm India-US ties

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump and visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared to hit it off on Monday (June 26) at the White House, with each assuring the other of common interests and growing strategic convergence.
 
Referring to the US and India as “true friends”, Mr Trump in a brief statement to the media at the Rose Garden said: “The future of our partnership has never looked brighter.”
 
Earlier, at a meeting joined by his top Cabinet Secretaries, the President said in preliminary remarks before the media was ushered out: “The relationship with the United States and India is very, very strong and very, very powerful.”
 
Mr Modi at the Rose Garden told the media the US and India were “global economic engines” and the US was the “primary partner” for India's economic transformation. The two leaders hugged each other twice.
 
“The word that comes to mind the most… is continuity”, Mr Michael Kugelman, Senior Associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Centre wrote in an email to The Straits Times.

“For all the talk about how drastically different Washington is now in the Trump era, there was something refreshingly familiar about what happened during Modi's visit.”

Ms Nisha Biswal, a former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs in the previous administration, now with the consultancy Albright Stonebridge Group, told The Straits Times: “I think for the Indians this was an important reassurance at an important time.”

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“There was anxiety because there had not really been much high level engagement between India and the United States. Coming into this there was a degree of concern from the Indian side on where things were headed” she said.

A joint statement released as the two leaders were having dinner at the White House, said they had “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,” it said.
 
“As responsible stewards in the Indo-Pacific region, President Trump and Prime Minister Modi agreed that a close partnership between the United States and India is central to peace and stability in the region” the statement added.


US President Donald Trump walks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi towards a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at The White House on June 26, 2017.  PHOTO: AFP

The two leaders pledged to deepen defence and security cooperation, building on the United States’ recognition of India as a Major Defence Partner, the statement said.
 
“The United States and India look forward to working together on advanced defense equipment and technology at a level commensurate with that of the closest allies and partners of the United States” it added.
 
It said India and the US would consult closely on the issue of Afghanistan, where the US is contemplating sending more troops. And it “called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries.”
 
Earlier, on the eve of Mr Modi’s visit, in a move long sought by India and swiftly welcomed, the US declared the Pakistan-based Syed Salahuddin, 71, chief of the terrorist group Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.
 
President Trump accepted an invitation from Mr Modi to visit India. His daughter and close aide Ivanka also accepted an invitation to lead the US delegation to a Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India.
 
“The positive body language between the two men, the focus on defence ties and commercial cooperation, and above all the focus on the inevitability of a deep lasting partnership.. is what we've been used to seeing and hearing (in) high-level meetings between Indian and American leaders in recent years,” Mr Kugelman wrote.
 
India was assured of the stability of the strategic alliance with the US, received help in fighting terrorism, and received the US President's recognition of the positive momentum of its economy, Ms Biswal noted.  

Mr Modi could come out feeling like “the partnership continues to be on a strong and stable footing” she said. 

“The main objective of this meeting was simply to have these two men meet and weigh in on their views of the bilateral relationship” Mr Kugelman added.

“It is quite clear from the joint statement that they view it as broad-based and multifaceted.  It's safe to say the health of the US-India relationship remains quite robust.”