Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet US President Donald Trump next week on a trip to Washington that might allow the two leaders to build a personal rapport but is unlikely to result in significant progress on issues such as immigration and climate change. Modi is likely to lobby Trump on visas for tech workers when they meet on June 26. He will also push forward discussions on buying 100 armed Predator drones and getting U.S. help with India’s plans for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, according to Indian defense ministry sources. Modi is also likely to seek assurances on the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative that facilitates US arms technology transfers to India. The two leaders may pledge deeper defense cooperation, while also discussing a harder line on Pakistan, terrorism in South Asia and China’s role in the region.
However, there are fundamental differences between them on issues including the H-1B visas — used by Indian IT companies — and the Paris climate accord, which India supports and Trump said he would abandon. There is no plan to announce any big arms deals, defense ministry sources said, including India’s outstanding order for $25 billion worth of warplanes. Ministry of Defence spokesman Nitin Wakankar said he had no comment to offer on the defense deals under discussion with the US. “I would expect a brief, friendly meeting that sets the right tone, but without a lot of detail or substance,” said Dhruva Jaishankar, a foreign policy fellow at Brookings India.
President Trump was looking forward to advancing common priorities on fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth, and expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement earlier this month.
‘Off the Radar’
Despite warming ties in recent years and a $66 billion trading relationship that is India’s second-largest, Trump’s “America First” slogan may make it difficult for him to find common ground with a prime minister prioritizing a “Make in India” campaign. Both Trump and Modi are trying to boost domestic manufacturing in order to create jobs.
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“You’ve got a clash of economic nationalisms going on,” said Ian Hall, acting director of the Griffith Asia Institute in Australia. “It’s very hard to see Modi and Trump having much in common, other than having the desire to appear strong to domestic audiences.”
Trump’s other priorities — from Syria, China and Russia to domestic issues including immigration, healthcare and investigations into his administration — have fueled the impression among India-watchers that New Delhi is simply not on Trump’s radar.
When India is mentioned, in relation to immigration or climate change, it has generally been negative. And Washington only signaled this past week, unofficially, that top Trump economic aide Kenneth Juster would replace former US ambassador to India Rich Verma, who stepped down after Trump’s election, according to the Press Trust of India.
“There is a palpable fear in New Delhi that the new U.S. president’s lack of focus on India, and limited appointment of South Asia focused advisers, has resulted in India falling off the radar in Washington,” wrote Eurasia Group analysts Shailesh Kumar and Sasha Riser-Kositsky in a recent note, noting the main goal for both is to establish a personal bond.
Pakistan, Indian Ocean
With Trump asking allies to shoulder more military costs, Brookings’ Jaishankar suggests Modi could signal New Delhi “is willing to play a bigger security burden in its neighborhood and the Indian Ocean and is not dependent on U.S. security guarantees.”
The two leaders are also likely to discuss Pakistan and regional terrorism, analysts said, particularly as Trump’s administration formulates a new South Asia policy. Trump could take a tougher stance on giving military aid to Pakistan as he eyes broader budget cuts.
“However, contrary to India’s long held desire, the U.S. will not label Pakistan a state sponsor of terror,” the Eurasia analysts wrote.