Briefing reporters on the visit in Washington, the US official who remained unnamed said, “I think what you’ll hear from the President is very much encouraging a reduction in tensions between India and Pakistan, encouraging the two countries to engage in bilateral dialogue with each other to resolve their differences.”
“We continue to believe a core foundation of any successful dialogue between the two is based on continued momentum in Pakistan’s efforts to crack down on terrorists and extremists on its territory. So we continue to look for that.”
“But I think the President will urge both countries to seek to maintain peace and stability along the line of control and refrain from actions or statements that could increase tensions in the region,” the official said.
Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will lead a 12-member American delegation to Ahmedabad, Agra and New Delhi on February 24 and 25.
Trump arrives in Ahmedabad on Monday and will be speaking at the “Namaste Trump” event organised at the Motera Stadium along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The US official said that Trump would then proceed to Agra to see the Taj Mahal with Modi accompanying him. Two people from the Indian side however said that Modi would not be accompanying the President on the Agra leg of the visit.
On the visit itself, the US official said that the aim of the Trump visit was to demonstrate “The strong and enduring ties between our two countries. These are ties based on shared democratic traditions, common strategic interests, and enduring bonds between our people. And, in part, this has been exemplified by the very close relationship between the President and Prime Minister Modi,” the official said.
The Trump visit will focus on several key areas that will include building on bilateral economic and energy ties, the official said pointing to Just two-way trade in goods and services exceeded $142 billion in 2018.
“There’s certainly much more room to grow, particularly in energy,” the official said adding that the Strategic Energy Partnership that was launched by Trump and Modi in 2017 had paid major dividends. “It’s improved energy security. It’s encouraged the production of more energy. And it’s facilitated Indian imports of U.S. crude oil, LNG, and coal,” the official said.
A second focus will be on defense and security cooperation to both fight terrorism and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, the official said adding that “The US wants an India that is strong, with a capable military that supports peace, stability, and a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.”
“And our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific really goes to the heart of what binds our two countries together, and this is our shared democratic systems that place a premium on citizen-centric governments. In fact, India has a strong foundation of democracy, going back to the early days, right after independence. India is a country rich in religious, linguistic, and cultural diversity. In fact, it’s the birthplace of four major world religions,” the official said.
Trump will talk about the shared tradition of democracy and religious freedom in India and the US both in his public remarks and then certainly in private, the official added.
“He (Trump) will raise these issues, particularly the religious freedom issue, which is extremely important to this administration,” he said. The comments come in the backdrop of concerns that the Citizenship Amendment Act passed by India’s parliament in December discriminates against Muslims.
“We do have this shared commitment to upholding our universal values, the rule of law. We have great respect for India’s democratic traditions and institutions, and we will continue to encourage India to uphold those traditions,” the official said.
On trade, the representatives of both the countries remain in talks about addressing the market barriers and that engagement would continue between India and US.
“The trade and economic relationship with India is critically important to the United States, and I think also access to the United States market is critical to the Indian government. We do want to make sure that we get this balance right. We want to address a bunch — a lot of concerns, and we’re not quite there yet,” the US official said in the response to a question on a possible trade deal between India and the US.
The official said that a number of announcements made by India recently to promote Prime Minister Modi’s flagship “Make in India“ programme had made the discussions on the trade deal “a bit more difficult perhaps.”
“Recent announcements on Make in India have made the protectionism concerns in India even greater. So we will be discussing those concerns. And what we see as an increase in barriers, not a decrease, this will certainly come up among the leaders,” the official said.
A limited trade deal was seen as a possible takeaway from the Trump visit but in recent days the president himself had seemed to rule it out.
“Whether or not there will be announcement on a trade package is, really, wholly dependent upon what the Indians are prepared to do. That said, we have a number of significant commercial deals, which are of great significance that we’re very pleased to announce in a number of key sectors,” the official added.