As US President Donald Trump walked into the room where the G-20 session on women’s workforce participation, future of work and ageing societies was being held, at 10.36 am local time on Saturday, he greeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi, who was talking to India’s G-20 Sherpa Suresh Prabhu, shook hands with Trump and patted him on the back.
At their bilateral meeting on Friday, Trump is learnt to have told Modi: “You can call me directly if you have any issues.” Trump is known to share his personal telephone numbers with world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau in the past.
According to those privy to the discussions at the bilateral meeting, the US President — who had tweeted against India’s “very high tariffs” barely 24 hours before the meeting — displayed “no bitterness”.
The leaders first met on Friday at about 9.15 am, as Trump and Abe walked to Modi after they finished their bilateral meeting at the InternationalExhibition Centre (INTEX) — the summit venue which is about an hour away from the Swissotel Hotel in Namba district, where Modi is staying.
They held their Japan-US-India (JAI) trilateral meeting for about 15-20 minutes, and then Modi and Trump walked to their meeting room, which was a little distance away. Sources said they chatted on the way to the meeting room.
After they reached the room, although Trump was hosting the meeting, Modi asked if he could speak first. According to diplomatic protocol, the host is supposed to speak first.
Modi then listed the issues on his agenda — Iran, 5G, bilateral relations and defence ties — for the 40-minute meeting. Sources said that by speaking first, he set the agenda for the meeting. While he did not put trade on the agenda explicitly from the Indian side, Trump made it clear that trade was on the agenda, along with 5G, but also added that they were “great friends” and the two countries have “never been closer”. The tone of the meeting was positive, as Modi displayed warmth and Trump reciprocated.
Sources said that Trump, who sprang a surprise on Thursday morning with a tweet which had the Indian side worried, was a completely different person during the meeting. “We would be lying if we say that there was no trepidation about the bilateral meeting. But, at the meeting, he was not the same person who had tweeted the day before,” a source said. However, Indian diplomats cautioned about any celebratory approach after the meeting, since the relationship is going through challenges and issues — and is a “work in progress”. And, they don’t rule out similar tweets in the future as well.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale made it clear on Friday, after the bilateral meeting, 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.”
While both leaders were supposed to meet for about 40 minutes, they overshot the time allocated because of the nature of the discussions. In fact, sources said the issue of defence relations was not discussed in detail since they ran out of time, and the protocol officials from both sides were keen to stick to the schedule. So, they could only cover only three of four issues listed for discussion.
On Saturday, the White House advisor and Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, gave a glowing summary of the meeting as a “productive conversation” and also termed India as a “critical ally”. While India has been described by US diplomats and leaders as a “natural ally”, Ivanka’s description of “critical ally” puts it even closer — in diplomatic parlance.
“We are here at the G-20 in Osaka and Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Abe just concluded a meeting with the President talking about 5G technology, particularly with a focus on its security implication,” said Ivanka Trump, in a 48-second video tweeted by the White House on Saturday.
“…A subsequent productive conversation, a one-on-one meeting between the President and Prime Minister Modi (was held) where the same issues were covered, of course, 5G, as well as trade relationship between the United States and India, a critical trading partner, a critical security partner and a critical ally. So it was a productive discussion, everything from Iran to national security was covered by the President and the US delegation with their Indian counterparts. And it’s been a productive morning, to say the least,” Ivanka, who was present at the bilateral meeting, said.
She, and her husband Jared Kushner, who is also senior advisor to the President, are accompanying Trump for the G-20 Summit.
The US readout of the Modi-Trump meeting was quite bland. “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,” the White House statement said.