Modi-Trump meeting likely to be low-key

Officials downplay expectations as two leaders meet for first time; security expected to figure in discussions

WASHINGTON • India's leader Narendra Modi arrives in Washington today for his first meeting with President Donald Trump, seeking to build on growing ties and move beyond disagreements over climate change.

Relations between the world's two largest democracies warmed under Mr Trump's predecessor, Mr Barack Obama, as India sought greater foreign investment and trade ties with Western nations.

Prime Minister Modi had vowed to work closely with the Trump administration, but obstacles soon emerged on issues such as trade and visas for Indians wanting to work in the United States. Then Mr Trump accused India of seeking to profit from the Paris climate accord as he announced that he was pulling out of the deal this month, drawing denials from New Delhi.

Officials were eager to downplay expectations of the visit, describing it as "no frills" - in contrast to Mr Modi's first US visit in 2014, when he basked in a rock star welcome at Madison Square Garden in New York and addressed the United Nations.

"If there's one thing we want (from the visit), it's chemistry," said one senior Indian official. "If the chemistry is good then frankly everything else gets sorted."

Some commentators say the two leaders should have a natural affinity as political outsiders who have risen to power in part by castigating the traditional ruling elite on a nationalist platform.

One US official said both have a "lot in common" and noted Mr Modi would be the first foreign dignitary to have a working dinner at the White House under the new administration.


Look forward to welcoming India's PM Modi to @WhiteHouse on Monday... Important strategic issues to discuss with a true friend!

US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP on his Twitter account.


Thank you @POTUS for the warm personal welcome. Greatly look forward to my meeting and discussions with you @realDonaldTrump.


Initial signs were positive, with the leaders exchanging warm words on Twitter.

"Important strategic issues to discuss with a true friend!" Mr Trump wrote late on Saturday.

"Thank you @POTUS for the warm personal welcome. Greatly look forward to my meeting and discussions with you @realDonaldTrump," Mr Modi responded.

Ahead of his meeting with Mr Trump, Mr Modi is scheduled to meet top American business leaders, including the heads of Apple, Microsoft and Google.

Mr Trump's protectionist instincts are at odds with India's efforts to boost exports and encourage Western manufacturers to "Make In India" - a flagship scheme under Mr Modi.

Analysts say today's meeting would give Mr Modi the chance to size up a US leader whose focus has so far been on ties with India's regional rival China.

"The meeting between the two leaders is very significant, obviously, because the new administration's policies towards Asia and particularly India, are not very clear," said foreign policy specialist Sujit Datta at New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University.

Regional security is expected to be high on the agenda for the talks as Washington considers deploying up to 5,000 extra troops in Afghanistan to help local forces fighting the Taleban and other insurgent groups. The Trump administration has also indicated it could take a tougher stance on Pakistan, which India has long accused of harbouring militant groups.

Political analyst Ashley Tellis said in an interview with Asian Age that the meeting would give Mr Modi "an opportunity to... articulate India's interests, and describe the opportunities those interests provide for the US".

"I don't think PM Modi can change Trump's worldview. But he can help Trump to think of India as an opportunity rather than as a problem," said Dr Tellis, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2017, with the headline 'Modi-Trump meeting likely to be low-key'. Print Edition | Subscribe