United States National Security Advisor H R McMaster met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi Tuesday, setting the ball rolling for a bilateral visit by the Prime Minister in the next few months, possibly as early as June. If this happens, it will be his fifth visit to the US in three years. Top sources told The Indian Express that Washington and New Delhi are trying to work out dates, much ahead of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September, widely expected to be Modi’s first bilateral visit to the US after the new administration under President Donald Trump assumed office in January this year.
Sources said the US State Department is not willing to host foreign leaders for bilateral meetings around UNGA, since they have already received more than two dozen “requests” for bilateral meetings with Trump. “The calendar is too crowded in September. The objective is to give due importance to the visit,” a source said.
Both Indian and American government sources confirmed the possibility that Modi may travel to the US for a stand-alone bilateral visit in June or July. Modi and Trump are anyway expected to meet in early July during the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Sources said that one tranche of dates has been proposed in early-to-mid June, and the other set of dates is in mid-July.
“McMaster’s meetings with Indian officials, including the Prime Minister, has explored the possibility. This is a follow-up to the Trump-Modi phone call after the inauguration,” a source told The Indian Express. At the meeting with Modi, McMaster reaffirmed India’s designation as a Major Defence Partner and emphasised the importance of its strategic relationship.
“The two sides discussed a range of bilateral and regional issues, including their shared interest in increasing defence and counter-terrorism cooperation,” the US embassy in New Delhi said in a statement after the meetings. “NSA McMaster emphasised the importance of the US-India strategic relationship and reaffirmed India’s designation as a Major Defence Partner,” it said, noting that the meetings were “productive”. McMaster, who is the first senior official from the Trump administration to visit India, met NSA Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar.
“The visit was a part of regional consultations that included stops in Kabul and Islamabad,” the statement said. The Indian side, in its statement, said McMaster “conveyed the greetings” of President Trump to Prime Minister Modi. “Prime Minister recalled his positive telephonic conversations with President Trump that reaffirmed the importance attached by both sides to the strategic partnership and to stepping up India-US engagement across the board,” the Prime Minister’s Office said, in a statement.
McMaster “shared his perspective” with Prime Minister on the security situation in the extended region, including in Afghanistan, West Asia and North Korea. This is perceived to be a reference to Pakistan-based terror groups, ISIS and China’s role in North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes. During the conversation, they exchanged views on “how both countries can work together to effectively address the challenge of terrorism and to advance regional peace, security and stability”.
Earlier, McMaster and Doval held detailed discussions on Indo-US relations especially the security aspect of the ties, sources said. The US NSA arrived last evening from Pakistan where he met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Ahmed Bajwa.
While McMaster is understood to have raised the issue of Pakistan-based terror groups, Pakistan Army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted on Tuesday, “US NSA meets COAS. Pak itself is victim of state sponsored terrorism, it strongly rejects allegations of employing proxies from its soil.” This was in response to reports of McMaster raising the issue in his meeting with Bajwa.