Trump-Modi meeting: Five hours to familiarity and friendship

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WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modiwill spend nearly five hours getting to know each other, forging a strong personal bond, and advancing a solid bilateral relationship+ when they meet at the White House on Monday.

The two leaders will first meet for one-on-one talks at around 3.30pm on Monday (Tuesday 1am IST), and after a brief photo-op with the media, they will head delegation-level talks, followed by a cocktail reception.

The day will culminate with a White House dinner, the first by the Trump administration for a visiting foreign leader, a Senior White House official who briefed the media on the Modi visit revealed, calling the gesture “significant” and adding that the White House is “seeking to roll out the red carpet.”

“The visit provides an opportunity to strengthen the US-India strategic partnership, which the President views as being critical in Asia-Pacific and globally,” the official said, previewing the engagement, and in the process revealing a broad continuity in ties.

President Trump and Prime Minister Modi have spoken twice over telephone after the former assumed office, and this will be their first personal meeting.

Officials on both sides characterize the two leaders as being business-centric and publicly-engaged, given that they are the two most followed world leaders on social media (Trump with 32.7 million followers on Twitter and Modi with 30.9 million followers).

The 30-minute preview of the first Trump-Modi bilaterals by the Senior White House official suggested a seamless transition in US-India ties into the new administration, premised on Washington’s recognition of India’s growing global and regional role, its aspirations, and its security concerns.

The talks between the two leaders would be broad-ranging and seek to advance common priorities, including counter-terrorism, facilitating India’s defence modernization, and helping advance India’s role in Asia-Pacific, the official said, echoing the line expressed by previous US administrations going back to Presidents Obama and Bush.

“A strong India is good for the United States. President Trump wants to build on that momentum,” the White House official said.

The two leaders will make a brief statement to the media and the talks will be followed by a joint statement but they will not take questions from the media, the official said, asking that not too much should be read into it and that is what the two leaders preferred.If there are any wrinkles in the ties, it is in the trade sphere (which was there even during the Bush and Obama years), the official acknowledged implicitly.

While previous US administrations did not necessarily highlight trade wrangles, the emphasis by Trump on revitalizing the American economy on the promise of bringing back jobs is so great that the official referred more than once to job growth arising from engagement with India, including the 64,000 US jobs created by the $5 billion that Indian students plow into American universities to get a US-minted degree.

 Asked by an American journalist about President Trump’s level of familiarity with India and how he is being tutored for the meeting (given the perception that he is not detail-oriented), the White House official said the President was receiving extensive briefings. He had also visited Mumbai and “as a businessman India is not new to him.”
“During the election campaign he was very much in touch with the Indian-American community and expressed positive feeling towards India,” the official said. “(With this meeting) he’s really going to expand the knowledge base on India and the importance of US-India relationship.”

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