|By Nilova Roy Chaudhury||May 2017|
New Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be flying to Washington DC in June for his first meeting with President Donald Trump. While the itinerary is still being firmed up, particularly in terms of the agreements and deliverables, Mr Modi will be in the US capital on June 25 and 26 for the crucial meeting with Mr Trump.
The meeting with President Trump, both one-on-one and at the delegation level, will focus on major bilateral issues and is likely to linger over lunch. Key issues that will come up include the issue of working visas, the issue of how ‘America First’ can meld best with ‘Make in India’ to bolster the economic partnership and, certainly, how best to further the global and bilateral counter-terrorism effort.
During Mr Modi’s visit to Washington a year ago, in June 2016, he addressed a joint session of the US Congress, a rare honour. The working visit this year has less ceremonial content and is intended more as a “get acquainted with the new administration kind of visit” an official told India Strategic. “There is no specific agenda, but major issues of bilateral and regional interest will come up for discussion,” the official said.
A host of other meetings, with top administration officials and Congressmen, are being finalised.
India will try to gauge the implications from Mr Trump’s just concluded visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel for both West Asia and South Asia.
India would have closely observed the Saudi Arabian monarch’s “snub” to the Pakistan prime minister by not allowing him to speak at the Trump-led Arab Islamic America anti-terrorism summit in Riyadh on May 22.
However, that summit also singled out Iran for censure for promoting extremist organisations and fuelling terrorism, making it a fine balancing act for New Delhi to negotiate, since it has close ties with both Tehran and Riyadh.
China’s belligerence in refusing India’s entry to the Nuclear Supplier’s Group, its expansionist credentials masked in the ‘belt and road initiative’ (BRI) and the situation in the South China Sea will also come up for discussion with President Trump.
The push for the visit has come from the Indian side, which is keen for the Prime Minister to establish a personal relationship with President Trump.
According to informed sources, with the Trump administration embroiled in a series of controversies, mostly related to relations with Russia, India is not high on the US radar at the moment and the State Department has not focused on working out many new deals or agreements for the Washington visit.
The Indian Prime Minister will then visit Houston on June 27 before he returns to India on June 28.
With a population of over 150,000 Indian-Americans, Houston in Texas is fast emerging as a new hub for the community. Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to meet with an array of representatives of the PIO community in Houston at a reception hosted by India’s Consul-General Anupam Roy.
Houston is also the hub of the petroleum industry and a meeting is scheduled with CEOs and senior executives from the energy sector, sources said, to seek investment and environment-friendly energy options for India.
A visit to NASA’s Johnson Centre is the centre-piece of the Houston leg of the visit, particularly given Mr Modi’s special interest in matters related to space. While no agreements have been finalised yet, the Indian Satellite Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning closer collaboration with NASA in upgrading technologies including rocket launch and shuttle technologies.
On March 29, ISRO and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)/ NASA began jointly working on the development of a Dual Frequency Synthetic Aperture Radar Imaging Satellite named as NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR). The microwave data from this satellite will be useful for a variety of applications, particularly helpful for agriculture and the environment.
India recently bolstered its space diplomacy credentials when it launched the South Asia satellite of May 5, a unique initiative which aims to promote regional collaboration and connectivity through sharing of facilities in space.
Describing India as a “true friend” of the US, President Trump had invited Prime Minister Modi to visit the United States when both leaders held a telephonic conversation, four days after Mr Trump was sworn in as president January 20. During that 20-minute conversation they discussed issues such as trade, defence and terrorism.
“During a call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, President Trump emphasised that the US considers India a true friend and partner in addressing challenges around the world,” the White House said in its readout of the call.
“President Trump looked forward to hosting Prime Minister Modi in the US later this year,” the White House said.
President Trump, who called Mr Modi after the massive state assembly election victory in Uttar Pradesh in April, again said he was looking forward to hosting Prime Minister Modi.
“President Donald J. Trump spoke with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to congratulate him on the outcome of India’s recent state-level elections,” the White House statement said.
“President Trump expressed support for the Prime Minister’s economic reform agenda and emphasized his great respect for the people of India. President Trump also said he looks forward to hosting Prime Minister Modi in Washington later this year.” the White House statement said.
While the meeting in June will be the first between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi, officials and aides from both countries have met and spoken many times since Mr Trump’s election. The first team of Indian officials, including India’s Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Ambassador to the US, Navtej Sarna, met then vice-president-elect Mike Pence in December 2016.
Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval met his counterpart National Security Advisor H R McMaster in Washington. He also met Secretary of Defence James Mattis.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Secretary of State Rex Tillersen had a telephonic conversation, while Jaishankar met with the top US diplomat during a visit to the US in March.
Jaishankar, who was accompanied by commerce secretary Rita Teotia, also met McMaster and president Trump’s top adviser on international economic affairs Kenneth Juster in the White House, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and secretary for homeland security John Kelly.
Indian officials have felt generally good about these meetings. “Overall our sense was that the administration has a very positive view of the (India-US) relationship and a very positive view of India,” Jaishankar said after his meetings.