By all indications, the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump exceeded expectations of both sides, on the optics and on the language of their joint statement, especially given that officials in New Delhi and Washington had spent much time in the past week managing the expectations, predicating much on how well the two leaders got along.
The “visible personal chemistry” that Ministry of External Affairs officials referred to frequently, was on display, with the two leaders exchanging three hugs and several handshakes through the course of the day.
“This was frankly one of the most productive of all prime ministerial visits to the United States,” said Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, who as former Joint Secretary (Americas) and Indian Ambassador to the U.S. has witnessed the Singh-Bush, Singh-Obama and Modi-Obama relationship up close as well.
While more details of the agreements between the two sides will emerge over the next few days and weeks, a quick look at the joint statement issued on Monday, and a comparison with the joint statement issued a year ago by Barack Obama and Modi in June 2016, reveals a few important points.
The Indo-U.S. Strategic Partnership is on course, but with a new emphasis on trade and economic ties.
This is reflected by the title of the two statements: “Enduring Global Partners in the 21st Century” in 2016, and the more modest “Prosperity Through Partnership” this year.
While the 2016 statement focused on ‘Bolstering Economic and Trade ties’, this year’s statement is more direct on how that will be done, with references to “balancing the trade deficit” (which, as it is in India’s favour, is a sore point for the Trump administration).
However, the joint statement of 2017 continues previous references to “a growing strategic convergence” bolstered by military, maritime and intelligence cooperation. In addition, while India has yet to commit to buying Predator drones, a sale of 22 Guardian drones was cleared by the U.S. Cabinet last week. President Trump said he was “pleased” that India buys U.S. defence products.
Terror and Pakistan
The language of the joint statement this year is much tougher on terrorism, specifically on Pakistan-based terror groups. A few hours before the Trump-Modi meeting, the U.S. State Department moved to make Hizb-ul-Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin a Designated Global Terrorist, a move that was welcomed by India.
Last year’s statement had the same wording when it came to “strengthening cooperation against terrorist threats from extremist groups, such as Al-Qa’ida, Da’esh/ISIL, Jaish-e Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, D Company and their affiliates, including through deepened collaboration on U.N. terrorist designations,” although this year has dropped the mention of “U.N. terrorist designations.”
The language on Pakistan is clear, and a departure from the past year, when all terror attacks from “Paris to Pathankot” were condemned.
“The leaders called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. They further called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot, and other cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based groups,” the most direct message sent in an India-U.S. joint statement thus far.
Like the previous year, the U.S. also committed to the U.N. Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, an Indian initiative, as well as to supporting India’s bid for the membership of the U.N. Security Council and Nuclear Suppliers Group.
For weeks leading up to the Trump-Modi meeting, speculation had swirled around the idea that the U.S. would ask India for more support, with some reports speaking of a demand for up to 15,000 Indian Army troops to help with the U.S. and NATO’s flagging efforts at fighting the Taliban.
Thus far, the only senior U.S. official to visit India was U.S. NSA McMaster, who came to Delhi from Kabul and Islamabad, which also fuelled the theory the U.S. sees a larger role for India in the conflict in Afghanistan.
However, the joint statement was non-committal on the nature of India’s contribution for now, with Trump welcoming “further Indian contributions to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security. Recognizing the importance of their respective strategic partnerships with Afghanistan, the leaders committed to continue close consultations and cooperation in support of Afghanistan’s future.”
A clearer picture will emerge once Defence Secretary James Mattis unveils the U.S.’ revised Af-Pak policy in mid-July.
While on the Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, the statement reiterated “the importance of respecting freedom of navigation, overflight, and commerce throughout the region.” This is a significant toning down of the language that possibly reflects Mr. Trump’s current ties with Beijing.
– Edited excerpts of a report in The Hindu