India trade deal eludes Trump; $3 billion defense pact inked

President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding talks at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on February 25, 2020.
President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding talks at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on February 25, 2020.

By Arun Kumar

India raises H-1B issue, Trump declines comment on India’s citizenship law.

President Donald Trump’s just concluded “incredible visit” to India turned out to be as promised a great spectacle, but in terms of tangibles, it seemed to be still a work in progress.

There was as expected no big trade deal between the two countries with Trump complaining about “India’s unfair high tariffs – probably the highest in the world,” but their commerce ministers would keep talking about it.

“If the trade deal happens with India, it will be towards the end of the year,” said Trump Tuesday at a solo presser hours after his talks with Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

After their fifth meeting in last eight months, Trump did announce as promised at the “Namaste India” spectacle in Ahmedabad on Monday, sealing of deals worth over $3 billion to expand their defense cooperation.

These include deals for purchase by India of advanced American military equipment, including six Apache and 24 MH-60 Romeo helicopters – “the finest in the world.”

The two countries also inked three other MoUs on mental health, safety of medical products, and sale of liquid natural gas (LNG).

RELATED: Namaste Trump: spectacle before substance (February 24, 2020)

At a joint appearance after their official talks at Hyderabad House, Modi recalling the unforgettable “historic welcome” given to Trump suggested that India-US relationship is “not just one between two governments but is people-driven and people-centric.”

The people-to-people contact forms the foundation of the special India-US friendship, he said noting that whether it’s professionals or students, Indian diaspora has a special role to play in the US.

Trump, in turn, described the visit as “unforgettable, extraordinary and productive saying first lady “Melania and I have been awed by the majesty of India and the exceptional generosity and kindness of the Indian people.”

“We will always remember the magnificent welcome the citizens of your home state (of Modi) showed us upon arrival.”

Later Trump met India’s top business leaders at the US embassy in a bid to push for deeper trade and business relations between the two nations.

Trump promised to reduce more US regulations as he looked for overseas investment to boost American economy.

Trump, Melania have a rendezvous at Taj Mahal on India visit (February 24, 2020)

As always striking a personal note he told business leaders stocks will jump higher if he is re-elected, but “if I don’t win you’re going to see a crash like you’ve never seen before.”

Modi and Trump took no questions at their joint appearance after their official talks at Hyderabad House with the US president alone facing the press later in the evening.

There were only a few questions about the visit at the Trump presser with the US media as is their wont largely focused on domestic US politics.

In response to a question about India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that has sparked violence in the capital claiming nine lives, Trump made it clear it was India’s internal affair and he trusted Modi to do the right thing about it.

“It is for India to do, and hopefully they will do the right thing,” he said. They did not discuss about the violence over CAA in Delhi. “I heard about it, but we did not discuss it.”

He had also discussed religious freedom with the Indian Prime Minister. “Modi wants people to have religious freedom in India…If you look back India has worked hard for religious freedom,” Trump said.

Asked about discrimination against Muslims, Trump said, “I had very powerful answer from PM Modi. He told me that they are working very closely with minorities in India.”

“PM Modi said that there are 200 million Muslims in India, and that his government is working closely with the minorities,”

On Kashmir, he renewed his offer to mediate between India and Pakistan on an issue that New Delhi considers a strictly bilateral matter.

“Anything I can do to mediate or help, I would do. They are working on Kashmir. Kashmir has been a thorn in lots of people’s sight for a long time.”

But he declined to comment on revocation of Article 370 that gave Jammu and Kashmir a special status.

On terrorism emanating from Pakistan, Trump said he talked about the issue with Modi at length.

“There is no question that it is a problem. They are working on it. I said I will do whatever I can do to help because my relationship with both gentlemen (PM Modi and Pakistan PM Imran Khan) is so good”

“Modi is very religious man, but a very strong person. He will take care of terrorism,” Trump added.

He also neatly side-stepped a question about H-1B visas coveted by Indian techies turning it into how India had honored him and the US with the grandest ever welcome ever accorded to a visiting head of state.

Indian officials said in discussing the issue, India had highlighted the contribution of Indian professionals in IT sector.

Trump’s second day in India started with another spectacle – a ceremonial welcome at the majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s House) with a 21gun salute and guard of honor.

The first couple also visited Raj Ghat memorial of Mahatma Gandhi and laid a wreath at the Gandhi samadhi.

Later as Trump flew off after a glittering banquet hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind, he must have felt elated over his rockstar reception and its likely impact on the race for the White House.

His host Modi too had a reason to smile for “deal or no deal” he had been able to avoid embarrassment over Kashmir and the CAA.

READ MORE:

Trump retweets himself as Bahubali as he sets out to win India (February 23, 2020)

Trump visit demonstrates ‘strong and enduring ties’ with India: White House (February 22, 2020)

Namaste Trump: An election oriented trip to court Indian American voters (February 21, 2020)

Tanvi Madan: With Trump, Indians ‘recognize that they do need to put something on the table (February 21, 2020)

President Trump to visit India on February 24-25 (February 10, 2020)

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