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India, US finalise defence deals, make progress on trade pact

Mr Trump was on a 36-hour, three-city tour of India, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump as well as his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.

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Updated: February 26, 2020

US President Donald Trump said India and the United States have finalised defence deals worth US$3 billion (S$4.2 billion). He added that the two countries have made “tremendous progress” on a trade deal during his visit to India that has reaffirmed India’s closeness to the US, in contrast to a more hawkish China.

Mr Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met yesterday, a day after a mega “Namaste Trump” welcome rally attended by more than 100,000 people kicked off a state visit marked by pomp and pageantry.

Mr Trump praised Indian hospitality, and in remarks to the press, noted that he had been told no leader had received such a welcome before.

“We think we’re at a point where our relationship is so special with India. It has never been as good as it is right now, and I think that’s because of the two leaders of each country – really we feel very strongly about each other,” said Mr Trump.

The two sides also announced that relations had been upgraded to a “comprehensive strategic global partnership”, which officials said reflected the increase in cooperation in defence and security, flagged by both sides as a key aspect in ties.

“Earlier today, we expanded our defence cooperation with agreements for India to purchase more than US$3 billion of advanced American military equipment, including Apache and MH-60 Romeo helicopters – finest in the world. These will enhance our joint defence capabilities,” said Mr Trump in a statement after talks with Mr Modi.

The Indian Prime Minister called defence and security cooperation “a very important aspect of our strategic partnership”.

India and the US have been growing closer, with the US seeing India as a counterweight to a rising China, and India seeking greater cooperation with the US. Still, differences remain, particularly over trade. The US is pushing for greater access for US dairy products, among other areas.

Both sides said that they will work towards a bigger trade deal while concluding legal aspects of a mini deal related to US access to Indian agriculture, among other sectors.

Mr Trump, however, emphasised at a press conference that India was charging high tariffs, particularly on Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

“The US has to be treated fairly. India understands it,” he said.

For its part, India is wary of US ties with Pakistan and past offers by Mr Trump to mediate on Kashmir, a disputed area between India and Pakistan. Mr Modi has also faced criticism in the US over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which gives Indian citizenship to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Mr Trump said he had discussed religious freedom with Mr Modi, and hoped India “will do the right thing” with regard to the CAA, which he called an internal matter.

The two leaders also discussed cooperation on pandemics, in the light of the coronavirus outbreak.

“There was some sense we need to work together on pandemics, including working on ways to control pandemics and protect our respective populations, particularly in connection with the coronavirus, which is a concern,” said Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.

Analysts said the visit was important in growing ties. “These visits are building blocks and a signalling mechanism… India’s neighbours Pakistan and China would be watching very closely,” said former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

“Mr Trump will have a better understanding of India, and the rapport he has with Mr Modi is helpful. Of course, hardcore issues won’t be decided on rapport. But in a lot of things, we see that the relationship gets pulled up or down because of lack of rapport between leaders.”

Talks took place even as East Delhi was hit by the worst violence in recent years, with clashes between protesters over the CAA.

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About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

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