President Donald Trump’s thirty-six hour State visit to India was packed with both ceremony and substance. He is the seventh President of the United States to have visited India; all four US Presidents over the last two decades have visited India, an indicator of the upward trajectory of the India-US relationship. The President was accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner as well as by a high-level delegation.
President Trump landed to an unprecedented welcome by thousands of people in Ahmedabad. After visiting Sabarmati ashram, the President and Prime Minister Modi addressed a packed crowd of 1.25 lakhs at the Motera stadium at the Namaste Trump event. It would be recalled that five months earlier President Trump and Prime Minister Modi had addressed a huge gathering of the Indian American community in the Howdy Modi rally at Houston. President Trump was lavish in his praise of the personality and leadership of Prime Minister Modi as well as of India’s achievements. “In just 70 years, India has become an economic giant, the largest democracy ever to exist and one of the most amazing nations anywhere in the world,” said the US President. The excellent personal rapport between the two leaders was very much in display throughout the event. After a quick visit to Agra to see the famed Taj Mahal, President Trump and his entourage arrived in the capital New Delhi.
The official engagements of President Trump began with the formal welcome ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan and the ceremonial visit to Rajghat where the US President and First Lady paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the US President held official talks. While discussing regional and global issues, Prime Minister Modi and President Trump called on Pakistan to ensure that no territory under its control is used to launch terrorist attacks, and to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of such attacks, including 26/11Mumbai and Pathankot. Mr. Trump welcomed India’s role in continuing to provide development and security assistance to help stabilize and provide connectivity in Afghanistan. This was followed by press statements by the two leaders. A meeting with business leaders was also held. The US President and his delegation attended the State Banquet hosted in their honour by President Ram Nath Kovind.
The high profile visit saw significant progress in crucial areas of the Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership between the two countries. In the sphere of defence and security cooperation, President Trump reaffirmed India’s status as a Major Defense Partner, affording it the highest consideration for procurement and technology transfer purposes. He also welcomed India’s recent decision to procure MH-60R naval and AH-64E Apache helicopters.
Strategic convergence in the Indo-Pacific was highlighted during the visit. A welcome step in this regard was the decision of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to establish a permanent presence in India with a $600 million financing facility for renewable energy projects in India. President Trump and the Prime Minister Modi expressed interest in the concept of the Blue Dot Network, a multi-stakeholder initiative for global infrastructure development.
It was also decided to reinvigorate Homeland Security cooperation. A new Counter-Narcotics Working Group between their respective law enforcement agencies has been set up.
Progress was also made on the thorny trade issue; the two sides decided to quickly complete the ongoing negotiations on a limited deal and then move to a more comprehensive bilateral agreement on trade that reflects the full potential of the two economies.
Energy cooperation between India and the US, which has seen an upsurge in recent years with increased imports oil and gas by India from the US as well as investment by Indian companies in US petroleum industry is likely to be further enhanced. Other areas of cooperation that are likely to get a boost from the visit include space, education, and health cooperation.
The US President reaffirmed Washington’s support for India’s permanent membership on a reformed UN Security Council as well as for entry into the Nuclear Suppliers group (NSG). It was indeed a productive and memorable visit.
Script: Amb. Navtej Sarna, Former Indian Ambassador to the US