AHMEDABAD • The United States will sign military deals worth more than US$3 billion (S$4.2 billion) with India today, US President Donald Trump said to great fanfare after arriving in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad yesterday.
"We make the greatest weapons ever made. Airplanes. Missiles. Rockets. Ships. We make the best and we're dealing now with India. But this includes advanced air-defence systems and armed and unarmed aerial vehicles," Mr Trump told a cheering crowd as he shared the stage with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Mr Trump is on his first official state visit to the South Asian nation, a two-day trip that officials say is a sign of both nations' converging interests, including a way to counter China's rise as a superpower.
Last week, India's Cabinet cleared a US$2.6 billion purchase from Lockheed Martin Corp of 24 multi-role MH-60R Seahawk maritime helicopters to the Indian navy. The State Department has also approved a potential sale to India of US$1.8 billion in arms, including air-defence radars and missiles, rifles and other equipment, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency announced.
The state visit is expected to see Mr Trump and Mr Modi aim to reset relations that have been buffeted by a trade spat.
Mr Trump reiterated his pledge that the US would make a significant trade deal with India.
"We are in the early stages of discussion for an incredible trade agreement to reduce barriers of investment between the United States and India," he said.
"And I am optimistic that, working together, the Prime Minister and I can reach a fantastic deal that's good and even great for both of our countries."
He gave no time line for a deal.
Officials have tried to hammer out a modest trade deal opening up India to US agricultural products and medical devices in return for the restoration of preferential export status that Mr Trump stripped from India last year.
"There has been comparatively less activity during President Trump's first term so it's important for the two sides to get a win in the arms sales arena, particularly since the trade deal that's been under negotiations for over a year appears to be off the table for now," said Washington-based Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Centre research fellow Jeff M. Smith.
WORKING ON TRADE PACT
We are in the early stages of discussion for an incredible trade agreement to reduce barriers of investment between the United States and India... And I am optimistic that, working together, the Prime Minister and I can reach a fantastic deal that's good and even great for both of our countries.
US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
But resolving the trade wrangle that led to both countries imposing retaliatory tariffs remains elusive. Indian and US officials have both said progress is unlikely to be made until after the US election.
Mr Modi was at the airport earlier in the day to greet Mr Trump and his wife Melania as they stepped off Air Force One.
A road show was planned and a huge reception held in a 110,000-seat stadium - claimed to be the world's biggest cricket ground - in Ahmedabad, which is Mr Modi's political home.
A huge crowd had filled the stadium, where many people were wearing customised white hats saying "Namaste (greetings) Trump", while workers handed out cardboard masks of the US President.
"We are ready to come to India, we are on our way, we will be meeting everyone in a few hours," Mr Trump had tweeted in the Hindi language before he landed.
Mr Modi tweeted in response: "The guest is God".
Mr Modi, who has built a personal rapport with Mr Trump, is pulling out all the stops for Mr Trump's visit even though a trade deal that Washington was pushing for has run into problems.
The rally in Ahmedabad is a larger version of the "Howdy Modi" rally that Mr Trump and Mr Modi jointly appeared at in Houston to a jubilant crowd of 50,000 Indian-Americans last year.
Mr Trump, who seeks re-election in November, routinely gets the biggest audience of any candidate in the US presidential race, ranging up to 20,000 or so, and he has been grudgingly admiring of Mr Modi's ability to draw a bigger crowd.
Mr Trump's entourage includes his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, besides members of his Cabinet, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
From Ahmedabad, Mr Trump heads to Agra for a sunset visit to the iconic Taj Mahal mausoleum, before landing in New Delhi for a summit with Indian officials and business leaders.
Many roads were blocked off in Ahmedabad yesterday, shops shut and police stationed on rooftops and balconies.
Schoolchildren boarded buses bound for the stadium shouting, "We love Trump". Others were carrying Indian flags.
Said Mr Durvin Prajapati, a 19-year-old volunteer who was standing on the stadium concourse handing out masks of Mr Trump: "We like Trump: He is good for business."