A MONTH after Donald Trump stunned Delhi by claiming that Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate on Kashmir, the US President looked on as the Prime Minister made it clear that all issues with Pakistan are bilateral, and India doesn’t bother any other country about them.
On Monday, before his 40-minute meeting with Trump on the sidelines of the G-7 summit, Modi said: “All issues between India and Pakistan are bilateral in nature, that is why we don’t bother any other country regarding them. India and Pakistan were together before 1947 and I’m confident that we can discuss our problems and solve them, together.”
Trump said: “We spoke last night about Kashmir, the Prime Minister really feels he has it under control. They speak with Pakistan and I’m sure that they will be able to do something that will be very good… I have a very good relationship with both the gentlemen (Modi and Khan) and I’m here. I think they can do it (resolve the issue) themselves.”
Asked if his offer to mediate was still on the table, Trump said: “I’m here”. But he was quick to add that he thinks India and Pakistan can do it on their own.
Modi struck a measured and conciliatory tone about dialogue with Pakistan. He said that after Imran Khan became Pakistan’s Prime Minister, he had called him up and said that both countries have to fight “poverty, illiteracy and disease” and they should work together.
Trump later reaffirmed the “need for dialogue between India and Pakistan to reduce tensions” and acknowledged India’s role as a critical partner in Afghanistan, according to an official statement by the US about the bilateral meeting.
The meeting, which started shortly after 12:30 pm, saw Trump saying, “It’s great to be here with Prime Minister Modi”, and that they would discuss trade and the military. He said he “learned a lot about India” from Modi at dinner last night. “Fascinating place. It’s a beautiful place,” he said.
Modi called Trump a “friend” and said it was a “very important meeting for me”. He thanked the US President for congratulating him after his recent election win and said the two countries “shared democratic values”.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said there was no discussion on J&K at the meeting between Modi and Trump — their second in 2019, two months after they last met in Osaka on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Japan.
The discussions on Kashmir appear to have taken place at a dinner Sunday attended by the two leaders and hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Hotel du Palais.
Gokhale, meanwhile, said the issue of J&K was also discussed with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who met Modi Monday regarding a climate change summit in September. Modi is due to travel to New York to attend the UN General Assembly and participate in the climate summit.
In the meeting with Guterres, Gokhale said, the Prime Minister laid out India’s basic position on J&K, that it is an “internal matter” and that Article 370 is under the Indian Constitution. On the international front, Modi told Guterres that “no step has been taken by India in any way or form to threaten the regional peace and stability”.
Modi also told Guterres that “normalcy is returning” in Kashmir, and that in many areas, “restrictions have been substantially eased or entirely removed”, according to Gokhale.
The Prime Minister also underlined that the people of Kashmir have faced terrorism for over 30 years, and described it as “the primary threat”. “This is our concern. And in keeping with that, certain restrictions will remain in place to ensure that law and order is maintained, and will be progressively lifted,” Gokhale said, in his briefing about Modi’s discussions with Guterres.
The White House, in its statement Monday, said: “Today, President Trump met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India at the G-7 Summit… President Trump reaffirmed the need for dialogue between India and Pakistan to reduce tensions and acknowledged India’s role as a critical partner in Afghanistan.” “Just wrapped up a great meeting with my friend Prime Minister @NarendraModi of India at the #G7Summit in Biarritz, France!” Trump tweeted.
Modi tweeted: “Excellent meeting with @POTUS @realDonaldTrump! We had useful discussions on bilateral matters. We agreed to address trade issues for mutual benefit soon. Looking forward to expand cooperation as large democracies for the benefit of our citizens and global peace and prosperity.”
The meeting, which was much anticipated after Trump’s misleading claim on US mediation in Kashmir, began on a relaxed note as the US President referred to Modi and said that he speaks “very good English. He just doesn’t want to talk.” He made that comment as Modi was speaking in Hindi, ahead of the meeting, and both laughed before PM patted Trump’s arm as they shook hands.
The meeting was attended by NSA Ajit Doval and Gokhale on the Indian side, and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and NSA John Bolton on the US side, among others.
Trump and Modi had spoken to each other last on August 19, three days after the UNSC informal consultations, when the US President had conveyed the importance of reducing tensions between India and Pakistan. Over the last one month, Trump has thrice said that he would like to mediate, if the two countries want. Modi arrived in this town on France’s southwestern tip Sunday evening from Bahrain on a personal invitation from Macron.
Ahead of the meeting, US officials had said that Trump would want to know from Modi how India planned to reduce regional tensions and uphold human rights in Kashmir as part of its role as the world’s largest democracy.
On July 22, Trump had dropped a bombshell when he had said, with Pakistan PM Khan by his side in Washington DC, that he would “love to be a mediator”. The US has nuanced its position on J&K in recent days. After initially saying that President Trump was “ready to mediate”, they have now said that the President is “ready to assist”.
In the last 10 days, the US has come out more unequivocally in India’s support, calling the issue of J&K an “internal matter” of India — something that New Delhi has always insisted on.
This was spelt out most effectively and clearly by US Defence Secretary Mark T Esper to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on August 20, when he “appreciated India’s position that the recent developments in Jammu and Kashmir are an internal matter of India”.
The new US approach was very different from its position of August 6, when it said that it “take(s) note” that India had described its actions (on Article 370) as a strictly internal matter. The US had said that it was concerned about reports of detentions, and urged respect for individual rights and discussions with those in affected communities.
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