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Donald Trump

Trump meeting India’s Modi this month in bid to seek closer economic and defence ties

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 June, 2017, 4:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 June, 2017, 4:31am

President Donald Trump will welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington this month, seeking closer economic and defence ties and cooperation in fighting terrorism, the White House said Monday.

The June 26 meeting will be the first between the leaders of the world’s two largest democracies, home to 1.6 billion people.

US-India relations prospered under President Barack Obama, particularly after Modi took office in 2014. India was seen as a partner to balance China’s growing weight in Asia.

But Trump has so far focused more on building ties with China as he looks to win its cooperation in tackling North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, and with US allies in East Asia.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the two leaders were expected to set forth a “common vision” on expanding the US-India partnership. He cited fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth and reforms and expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region as shared priorities. He said bilateral trade has grown six-fold since 2000, reaching US$115 billion in 2016.

India’s foreign ministry said the two leaders’ discussions “will provide a new direction for deeper bilateral engagement.”

Indian officials hope that Trump and Modi will hit it off. They share a populist streak and a taste for social media, and have spoken three times by phone.

During the US election campaign, when Trump often criticised foreign leaders as he propagated an “American First” agenda, he courted Indian-American voters. He praised Modi for championing bureaucratic reform and economic growth.

But there could be strains in the relationship too. Trump has ordered a review of the H1B visa programme, under which thousands of skilled Indian workers go to the US.

New Delhi was also irked by Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord. In making the announcement, the US president said New Delhi had made its participation “contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid.” India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has denied that, and said India will continue to be part of the global accord, regardless of US participation.

As Xi and Modi put differences aside at SCO summit, will India-Pakistan ties follow suit?

India hopes Trump’s vow to take a harder line on Islamic extremism will mean a tougher stance on Pakistan over militants that India blames for attacks on its territory. Modi will also want to hear that Washington remains committed to the security of Afghanistan — subject of an ongoing US policy review.

US-India defence ties have grown significantly in recent years. While India steers clear of a formal alliance with Washington, the two militaries conduct frequent joint drills and India has turned to US suppliers to help modernise its armed forces.

Modi, a Hindu nationalist, has visited the US three times since he took office in 2014. The last time was in June 2016, when he addressed Congress and described the US as an “indispensable partner.”