With a small piece of paper in hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke first and set out four priority issues he wanted to discuss with US President Donald Trump — Iran, 5G, bilateral ties and defence relationship. Trump picked out trade and 5G, even as he was effusive in his praise for Modi.
On Friday, the bilateral meeting between the two leaders went slightly beyond the allotted 40 minutes, with Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale telling reporters later that both sides “aired their concerns”, and agreed that their trade ministers, or representatives, will meet soon to sort out these issues.
Trump, who had targetted India in a tweet for “very high tariffs” barely 24 hours ago, “welcomed the idea”, according to Gokhale. This indicated that both sides have decided to take these issues to the negotiating table and not make any public comments.
Modi did mention the retaliatory tariffs after the US decision on revoking its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for India, but merely said that it was “something that had already happened”, and now they should look at how “they can resolve these issues”.
On trade, the Foreign Secretary made it clear that “negotiations are not done at the level of leaders… the idea was to clear the air, and then to set the agenda for discussions in resolving trade matters. In that direction, both leaders have directed officials to now move forward. And that’s where we found the discussions to be very open and very productive.”
Gokhale said, “Both US Trade Representative (Robert) Lighthizer and their Treasury Secretary (Steven) Mnuchin were in the room, and so what we expect now is an early meeting… whether it will be at the level of Commerce and Industry Minister and USTR or we will first have technical discussions, that’s an issue to be decided.”
According to the White House readout: “The two sides had the opportunity to share their concerns and priorities with regard to trade issues. They called on their respective economic teams to work constructively toward finding solutions that would benefit both economies.”
While discussing Iran, Modi conveyed India’s concerns related to energy security, and peace and stability in the region. He pointed out that although India gets about 11 per cent of its energy from Iran, it had reduced oil imports from the country. Sources said it has reduced it to zero since May 1.
“Despite the effect it had on the Indian economy, we have been able to sustain the position. And we also have diaspora in the region, we have energy requirements in the region, we have economic interests in the region. Therefore, it was in India’s fundamental interest to ensure peace and stability in the region. The PM also recalled that we have deployed Indian Navy ships in the region to protect India-flagged vessels passing through the Gulf and the straits of Hormuz,” Gokhale said.
This was “appreciated very much by President Trump”, he said. “The President expressed his hope that oil prices will remain stable, he talked about what US was doing to ensure that stability is maintained in the Gulf, that oil prices were stable. And both sides agreed that we would remain in touch on the issue of Iran and will continue to have mutual discussions on how we ensure regional peace and stability,” Gokhale said.
On 5G, the two leaders had a brief discussion, with the Prime Minister pointing out that India is going to be a “billion users” of this technology. In that sense, he said, India is the “second-largest market” in the world, and the way it moves and whatever choices it makes will essentially determine the global trend.
“Therefore, the PM said that in this regard, how we can leverage this. The billion Indian users, India’s capacity in technology development, in start-up, in design, and Silicon Valley and its role in developing 5G technology for mutual benefit,” Gokhale said.
Trump spoke about the work American companies are doing in 5G, where he specifically referred to the Silicon Valley and said that since he has taken over as President, he has focussed on this area, in America’s capability in developing this technology. He said that he looked forward to working with India. It was again decided to continue the conversation through meetings at the technical level, as well as at the level of Secretary of State and the External Affairs Minister, and the technical ministers.
Due to paucity of time, Gokhale said the S-400 Russian missile deal was not discussed, and referred to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s comments that India will act in its own national interest.
The tone of the bilateral meeting was set at the beginning, when Modi reminded Trump that he was back with a “huge and landslide victory”, and recalled his telephone conversation with the US President, his “love towards India” and the “warm message” sent through US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo.
He said they have a vision for India-US relations which is “far-sighted and positive”, and that “India is committed to taking forward these relations…”
Trump too, in his opening remarks, said that they’ve become “great friends” and the two countries have never been closer. Acknowledging Modi’s “landslide election” by saying that “you deserve it”, Trump said: “I think we’re going to have some very big things to announce. A very big trade deal.” He also told Modi that “it’s been a lot of fun being with you”.