US, India Together in War on Terror: Modi, Trump in First Phone Conversation

The new US president has also invited the prime minister to visit the White House later this year.

New Delhi: Four days after his inauguration, US President Donald Trump spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, January 24, during which both resolved that the “United States and India stand shoulder to shoulder in the global fight against terrorism” and looked forward to a visit from the Indian leader later this year.

“At one o’clock (11.30 p.m. IST), President Donald Trump spoke to [the] Indian Prime Minister,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, at his second press briefing on Tuesday.

The White House readout began with Trump stressing that “United States considers India a true friend and partner in addressing challenges around the world”.

“The two discussed opportunities to strengthen the partnership between the United States and India in broad areas such as the economy and defence,” the statement said. While the India-US defence partnership has strengthened, there are still several potential pitfall on the economic front over US concerns on market access and Indian complaints over H1B visa wrangles. It also remains to be seen how Trump’s slogan of ‘Buy American, Hire American’ will fit in with Modi’s ‘Make in India’ policy.

Reiterating that ties with India have a wider imprint, the White House said that the two leaders also “discussed security in the region of South and Central Asia” – an obvious reference to the operation of terror groups in Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

“President Trump and Prime Minister Modi resolved that the United States and India stand shoulder to shoulder in the global fight against terrorism,” it said. Trump has already stated that fight against Islamist extremism would be a top priority. But, Trump’s focus has been mainly on elimination of ISIS in Iraq andSyria, while Indian interests are centred on more sustained pressure on Pakistan, or the “mothership of terrorism”, as Modi had described it last year.

Trump also extended an invitation to Modi to visit the White House. “President Trump looked forward to hosting Prime Minister Modi in the United States later this year”.

This means that Modi will certainly make a trip to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September-October, if not earlier. Modi had skipped the UNGA last year as he had already travelled to Washington twice in the first half of 2016. He has already visited the US four time since his election in May 2014.

In a multilateral setting, Trump and Modi are certainly likely to bump into each other at the G20 summit in Germany in July.

This was their second phone conversation after Modi had congratulated Trump, a day after he had won the US presidential election in November 2016. The Indian prime minister may have been one of the first world leaders to speak to Trump after his surprise win.

But that conversation was spectacularly upstaged by Pakistan within a few days, when it issued a press release that went beyond the anodyne phrases used in diplomatic notes.

According to the readout of the phone call between Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Trump, distributed by the Pakistan government’s press information department, Trump told Sharif that he was “ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems”. For any Pakistani leader, the “outstanding problem” is code for the perennial dispute with India over Kashmir.

In response, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup retorted that the “most outstanding issue of the outstanding issues is Pakistan’s continued support to cross-border terrorism”. “To that extent, we will welcome a dialogue between the US and Pakistan to resolve that issue,” he added.

Modi is the fourth world leader Trump has spoken to since January 20.

The day after his inauguration, Trump spoke to his neighbours, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Saturday – both of whom are anxious about the direction of US’s new protectionist trade policy.

On Sunday afternoon, Trump had a “very nice” phone talk with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Then, on Monday evening, it was the turn of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to whom Trump promised to support the Egyptian military’s fight against terrorism.