Political News

Trump's Modi meeting marks venture into India-Pakistan relations

Posted June 26

President Donald Trump will look to boost military cooperation between the United States and India when he meets with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House on Monday, June 26, 2017. Pictured is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking to CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Sept. 15, 2014.

President Donald Trump will look to boost military cooperation between the United States and India when he meets with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House on Monday, thrusting himself into the delicate world of India-Pakistan relations.

The meeting between the off-the-cuff President and the prime minister who leads one of the world's fastest growing economies will be filled with contentious issues, but none may be more challenging than how the United States treats India like a "major defense partner" -- a designation the Obama administration gave the country in 2016 -- without angering neighboring Pakistan.

Senior administration officials who prepared Trump for Monday's meeting said Trump is aware of the delicate balance, but will look to treat India like the defense ally it is, including by selling the kind of "technology that the United States provides to its closest allies and partner."

Experts expect those sales to be of drones.

Any tightening in relations between India could jeopardize the US-Pakistan relationship.

"I want to make a point here that US relationships with India and Pakistan really stand on their own merits and terms," a senior administration official said. "We don't see a zero-sum relationship when it comes to the US relationship with Pakistan and the US relationship with India."

While the Trump administration hopes to "deepen" its relationship with India, the official added that they are "also interested in continuing our cooperation with Pakistan" and are "concerned about tensions between Indian and Pakistan."

"But frankly, the priorities are different and the nature of the relationships are different," the official said. "I think we would like to move forward with both countries but we realize that the pace and scope of that relationship is going to be different in each case."

Modi is expected to address issues of terrorism and, possibly, US aid to Pakistan. He wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on Monday that defense is a "mutually beneficial sphere" in the relationship between the United States and India.

"We are already working together to address the existing and emerging strategic and security challenges that affect both our nations -- in Afghanistan, West Asia, the large maritime space of the Indo-Pacific, the new and unanticipated threats in cyberspace," he wrote. "The logic of our strategic relationship is incontrovertible."

Red carpet treatment

Trump, six months into his presidency, is no longer entirely new to foreign visits, but administration officials said the President intends to "roll out the red carpet" for Modi on Monday.

Their day together -- which will include a one-on-one meeting, a joint statement from the Rose Garden and a reception in Modi's honor -- will end with a working dinner at the White House.

While issues like defense spending will define Monday's visit, the purpose of Trump and Modi's afternoon together is also aimed at getting their relationship off on the right foot.

Trump, an official said, has visited India once, has two developments in the country and said during the campaign that if he were elected President: "India would find a true friend in the White House."

"If I'm elected president, the Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House, that I can guarantee you," he said at an event in Edison, New Jersey, during the 2016 campaign.

But to Modi, Trump is a new face who supplanted former President Barack Obama, a leader the Indian Prime Minister grew close to in the two years they overlapped in office.

When Modi visited Washington in September 2014, Obama took the Indian Prime Minister to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Obama, who traveled to India twice during his presidency, visited India in 2015 and became the first American president to attend India's Republic Day parade, a showcase of the country's military might. Their warm relationship was evident throughout the trip, cemented by a number of public hugs.

Common ground

So far, Modi and Trump have had two phone calls together and administration officials are hopeful they can find common ground.

One administration official even said they could bond over Twitter, noting that Monday's meeting will bring together the world leaders with the two largest Twitter followings.

Modi has close to 31 million followers. Trump has over 32 million.

"I think President Trump is slightly ahead of Modi, but I think this shows the kind of leaders they are," the official said.

Both Trump and Modi have tried to boost domestic manufacturing in their own country. Modi, under a program titled "Make in India," has been looking for foreign companies to set up production in India. That message runs counter to Trump's "America First" messaging, where Trump is looking to punish American companies who ship jobs and production overseas.

Administration officials expect both the United States expects India to raise concerns about restrictions on certain exports. And the United States will raise concerns about intellectual property and reducing tariffs on American goods, the officials added.

Trump, so far, has held his fire on India, instead focusing his ire on Mexico, China and Germany.

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