The first stand-alone visit by a US President, a high-powered White House delegation that includes three of President Donald Trump’s family members, the first time that First Lady Melania Trump and daughter Ivanka are travelling together on an official visit, and a fifth meeting since May right in the middle of an election campaign that comes after four earlier meetings between Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi — a headline trade deal may be off the table but officials in New Delhi underline how these firsts underline the deepening of the India-US strategic partnership.
Beyond the pomp and the spectacle at the Namaste Trump event in Ahmedabad, some substantive outcomes are also expected: a centre for counter-terrorism is likely to be announced as the MoU on Homeland security will focus on aviation and immigration security. Sources said that an Industrial Security Annex summit is scheduled for April-May while an energy dialogue to diversify India’s energy requirement is a key thrust area to be discussed around the visit.
That dialogue, also likely to be in April in the US, envisages long-term agreements in energy partnership in LNG and crude oil, a gas task force and technology tie-ups in processing, exploration and exploitation; and the supply of 10 million tonnes of high-grade metallurgical coal – worth about USD 2 billion – used for specialised processes like smelting. A pact between Indian Oil and Exxon on LNG pipeline infrastructure is likely to be inked during the visit.
The areas where agreements are likely also include building capacities and collaborations in mental health; industry-specific agreements for the supply of high-quality medicine to the US; agreement on intellectual property rights and a basket of items in defence, which is likely to include helicopters.
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During their India visit on Feb 24-25, Team Trump will travel to Ahmedabad and then to Agra, where they will visit the Taj Mahal, and Delhi. As per official sources, the delegation includes the Trump family: Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Ivanka and Kushner are senior advisers to the US President. Ivanka Trump had come to Hyderabad in November 2017 to attend the Global Enterpreneurship Summit at Modi’s invitation. According to sources, Ivanka’s addition took place later, and she recalled her Hyderabad visit “fondly” while deciding to get on-board.
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“This is a very personalised administration and the fact is that the US President can take over-riding decisions, he came all the way to Houston for the Prime Minister’s town hall and now this visit with his family…this underlines the importance both sides accord to the deepening relationship,” said a top official.
Other heavyweights in the delegation, as of now, include: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, National Security Advisor Robert C O’Brien and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney among others. It is expected that all these ministers will meet their counterparts, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and NSA Ajit Doval.
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As NSA O ‘Brien will meet his counterpart NSA Doval, a key agreement on Homeland security is likely to be signed. Aviation security, immigration security, and combating transnational crime and terrorism will be the key components of this pact, sources told The Indian Express. Sources said that an MoU on cooperation in homeland security is likely to be signed between US Department of Homeland Security and Ministry of Home Affairs.
The MoU will strengthen and coordinate the two countries’ efforts on homeland security cooperation, cybercrime, global supply chain security, border security, immigration security, and combating translational crime and terrorism, sources said. This will be within the framework of US-India Homeland Security Dialogue (HSD) established in 2011.
The areas of cooperation under the MoU will include border, immigration and global supply chain security, law enforcement investigative cooperation, aviation security, local and state law enforcement engagement, and professional development and capacity building. The cooperation in counter-terrorism has seen considerable progress with enhanced intelligence sharing, information exchange and operational cooperation. This was evident after the Pulwama terrorist attack, which led to the designation of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under UNSC resolution 1267 — a process in which the US played a key role, and Washington’s support to put Pakistan in the grey-list at the FATF.
The Afghanistan peace pact, the official said, is likely to figure in Modi-Trump talks.
The bilateral Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism is an important mechanism in this regard. It last met in Washington in March 2019 (16th Meeting). “Both sides have also been working together in law enforcement and security cooperation through the six subgroups under the HSD. The Senior Officials Meeting of the HSD (between Ministry of Home Affairs and Department of Homeland Security) was held in July 2018. Both sides have also initiated a Designations Dialogue to discuss designations of terrorists and entities. Both sides also cooperate with each other on counter-terrorism and security issues in various multilateral bodies,” a source said.
“So regular have meetings between the Prime Minister and the President become,” said the senior official, “the relationship needs to be seen beyond a purely transactional perspective.” Trump had assured Modi in 2017 that he would visit India in his first term and for him to deliver on that assurance, officials said, is significant.
An official pointed to a piece Thursday in Foreign Affairs by Ashley Tellis, who has served as senior adviser to the Undersecretary of State for political affairs, to underline the importance of the visit. “Three years into Trump’s presidency, the strategic partnership with India that successive US administrations have cultivated as a silent bulwark against China hasn’t just survived – it has flourished,” wrote Tellis. “…Modi’s courtship of Trump was part of a considered strategy to keep the United States committed to India. Whereas many other world leaders reacted to Trump’s election in 2016 with bewilderment and horror, the Indian prime minister sought to charm and disarm his impulsive American counterpart. In public, Modi lavished attention on Trump and wrapped him in trademark bear hugs. In private, he patiently parried Trump’s demands on everything from Afghanistan to India’s peace process with Pakistan to bilateral trade with the United States. In doing so, Modi signaled that the United States was of vital importance to India and sought to persuade Trump that even an asymmetrical U.S.-Indian partnership could be mutually beneficial. And Trump seems to have bought it, given his boast that Modi promised him a boisterous welcome.”
That partnership, officials said, is based on the deep networks between the two nations — 4 million Persons of Indian Origin in the US, 200,000 Indian students in the US; 2000 US companies in India and 200 Indian companies in the US.
On a trade deal, officials said there is no “pressure” of an agreement during the visit. “It is very complicated,” said an official, “the task is to bring sectors to the table that haven’t had market access and discussions on a range of issues including stringent regulatory framework on both sides…The visit does accelerate the pace of talks but both sides couldn’t complete the work that was needed…We didn’t want any unintended trade barriers cropping up at a later stage.”
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