MEA: Issues are complicated, don’t want artificial deadlines.
New Delhi: India on Thursday made it clear that the coming address by US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi before a large crowd at Ahmedabad’s massive Motera Cricket Stadium on February 24 is not designed to influence the American presidential elections or domestic politics there, adding that the “Namaste Trump” event was being organised by a private body called the “Donald Trump Nagrik Abhinandan Samiti” (Citizens Felicitation Committee).
On the two nations not signing a trade deal anytime soon, New Delhi said that India “does not want to rush into a trade deal” and it also “does not want to create artificial deadlines” because the “issues involved are complicated, with many decisions potentially having real impact on people’s lives and long-term economic consequences”.
President Trump, accompanied by his wife Melania, will be on a two-day visit to India on February 24-25, during which they will land in Ahmedabad at noon on February 24, followed by a two-hour stop in Agra to see the iconic Taj Mahal before sunset that same evening, and then on to New Delhi later that evening. The next day (February 25), the US President will hold official talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi , when the India-US strategic partnership including defence, security, counter-terrorism as well as trade and energy, will be discussed.
The revelation Thursday evening by the external affairs ministry that the “Namaste Trump” event was organised by the “Donald Trump Nagrik Abhinandan Samiti” on February 24 drew sharp reactions from the Congress Party, which demanded details regarding this forum and when it had invited President Trump for the event.
Interestingly, Ahmedabad municipal commissioner Vijay Nehra was quoted by PTI as saying that one lakh to two lakh people were expected to line up along the 22-km route of the roadshow of the US President and Mr Modi on February 24 ahead of their joint address at the Motera Stadium. “We believe that around one to two lakh people will gather to welcome the dignitaries during the roadshow,” Mr Nehra said. This, of course, is far less than the bizarre figure of “seven million” (or 70 lakhs) that the US President has been claiming. Also, as of now, a visit by the US First Couple to the Sabarmati Ashram looks uncertain, due to possible time constraints.
Dismissing any speculation that the Motera Stadium address was a political one that may electorally benefit President Trump — who is reportedly eyeing the Gujarati Indian American vote in the US — just months before America’s November elections, MEA spokesman Raveesh Kumar said: “I don’t think we view this joint address by the two leaders as directly intended to influence the internal politics of the US. Even in the past, several leaders (including) US Presidents have also held public events in India, even though on a much smaller scale.” It may be recalled that the “Howdy Modi” rally in Houston in the US last year, that was also addressed by the two leaders, had resulted in some controversy after some commentators felt President Trump was appealing for the votes of Indian-Americans (US nationals of Indian origin).
The MEA also sought to reject allegations and criticism that there had been extravagant expenditure for the “Namaste Trump” event, saying that arrangements had to be made for “protocol, security and logistics”, and that these were based on reciprocity. The MEA noted when the “Howdy Modi” event took place in the US, it had got “considerable support” from the US authorities.
On the fact that no trade deal will be immediately signed during the visit next week, the MEA spokesman said: “We have been engaging with the United States on trade talks for some time. We hope to reach an understanding with an outcome that strikes the right balance for both sides. We do not want to rush into a deal as the issues involved are complicated, with many decisions potentially having real impact on people’s lives and long-term economic consequences. We do not want to create artificial deadlines.”
New Delhi also sought to play down the recent remark of the US President that his country had “not been treated well by India”, with the MEA saying President Trump’s remark was made in the “context of balance of trade”. The MEA also indicated that the H-1B visa issue would be raised by New Delhi during the talks with the US President as the issue was “very important” to India.
Meanwhile, PTI reports said US First Lady Melania Trump was likely to visit a Delhi government school and interact with students on February 25. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia are likely to give a tour of the school to the US First Lady and brief her about the “happiness curriculum” introduced by the Delhi government, sources were quoted as saying.
The MEA spokesman added: “The India-US relationship is progressing from strength to strength. Our trade has already been growing at more than 10 per cent per annum for the past two years, our trade deficit has been declining steadily. Our trade will become even more balanced with increasing imports of US oil and gas, and the purchase of large numbers of civil aircraft by India over the next few years. The US is now our sixth largest source of crude oil imports, while we have become the US’ fourth largest customer of crude oil.”
On India-US ties, the spokesman said: “The visit has to be seen in the context of reaching a certain stage of maturity in the relationship, regular meetings between the leaders of two democracies and the growing comfort level between our two countries. Both leaders have personally invested in this relationship. This will be President Trump’s first and standalone visit to India. Over the years, the canvas of our relationship has expanded to include several new areas. We enjoy a broad level of support from the executive branch as well as bipartisan support by the Congress.”
He added: “There has been growing intensity in ministerial visits. We had a very successful and outcome-rich second meeting of India-US 2+2 Ministerial in December last year. Our defence relations have expanded by concluding enabling agreements like LEMOA and COMCASA. We have initiated a joint tri-services HADR exercise named Tiger Triumph as an annual exercise. The US is India’s largest trading partner in goods and services and it is growing at a healthy pace. There is a growing cooperation in counter-terrorism. The Indo-Pacific... we have established a promising partnership. We expect that the talks will deepen our engagement in all the above areas. It would also give an opportunity to exchange views on regional and global issues of shared interests. Overall, our global strategic partnership will be further strengthened.”