June 24, 2017

Will roll out the red carpet for Modi’s US visit, says White House

http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/will-roll-out-the-red-carpet-for-modis-us-visit-says-white-house/article19139377.ece?homepage=true

Varghese K. George

WASHINGTON, JUNE 24, 2017 07:44 IST

UPDATED: JUNE 24, 2017 11:27 IST

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Trump and Narendra Modi to spend five hours together; new areas of anti-terrorism cooperation to be announced during the visit.

The White House will “roll out the red carpet” for Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, a senior administration official said on Friday, making it clear that the Donald Trump administration will carry forward the agenda set by the previous Obama administration for U.S.-India relations.

Both leaders will spend nearly five hours on Monday, starting with a one-on-one meeting at 3.30 pm, followed by a delegation level meeting, a cocktail reception and a working dinner, the official said, briefing on background. Mr. Modi will be the first foreign dignitary to be hosted by Mr. Trump for a White House dinner, the official added. Mr. Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for state dinners at his private golf resort Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

The President considers India a critical partner in dealing with a variety of global challenges, the official said, adding that defence partnership between the countries will flourish under the Trump administration. “We believe that a strong India is good for the U.S.,” said the official.

“President wants to build on that,” the official said, referring to the previous administration’s measures to promote defence cooperation with India. The Obama administration had designated India as a ‘major defence partner,’ an undefined term. The White House official said there will be some “concrete expression of that description,” during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the U.S. capital. Mr. Modi will arrive on Saturday evening.

Accelerated defence cooperation

While defence cooperation will be accelerated and enhanced, cooperation in energy, particularly natural gas, will be a new thrust in bilateral ties under the Trump administration, the official said. New areas of anti-terrorism cooperation will be announced during the visit.

The official gave clear indication that the pending Indian request for 22 unarmed Guardian drones would be cleared during the visit, saying no comments could be made before the U.S. Congress is notified on any arms sales.

Meanwhile, the CEO of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, manufacturers of the UAV, told Defense News that the sale has been cleared. “We are pleased that the U.S. government has cleared the way for the sale of the MQ-9B Guardian to the Indian Government,” said Linden Blue. “Guardian provides the endurance and capability required to significantly enhance India’s sovereign maritime domain awareness in the Indo-Pacific. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is standing by to support the U.S. and Indian Governments throughout this process.”

Indian defence orders support thousands of jobs in the U.S. and the Indian student population supports another 64,000 jobs in the U.S. The White House official pointed out that Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi were two leaders with a large number of Twitter followers and both were innovative in their thinking.

Both leaders will read out a brief statement each after the one-on-one, but the they would not take questions from the media, a departure from usual White House practice after the President’s meeting with a foreign dignitary. Usually, both leaders take questions from the press.

The official indicated this was done at India’s behest. “Don’t read too much into it,” said the official, when reporters pressed why questions will not be allowed.

The official recalled that the President had expressed his admiration for the Indian American community during his campaign last year. “He had then said India would have a true friend in the White House if he wins,” the official said, referring to Mr. Trump’s speech at a gathering of Indian Americans organised by Shalabh Shalli Kumar, founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC).

‘Ties with India and Pakistan not a zero sum equation’

America’s ties with India and Pakistan are qualitatively different, and they are not a zero-sum equation, a senior White House official said. The official said America’s defence cooperation with India does not threaten Pakistan. 

“U.S. relationship with India and Pakistan really stand on their own merits. We don’t see a zero-sum relationship when it comes to U.S. relationship with Pakistan and U.S. relationship with India. We are certainly eager to deepen the strategic partnership with India but we are also interested in continuing our co-operation with Pakistan,” the official said.

According to the senior administration official, the Trump administration is concerned about tensions between India and Pakistan and “would like to see the normalisation of relations between the two countries.” At the same time, the official made it clear that it would not offer to mediate between the two. “…we very much encourage India and Pakistan to engage in direct dialogue,” the official said. 

“We seek to have an effective partnership with each country. We see India’s role and influence growing. We like to encourage that. With Pakistan too, we seek to work together but frankly the priorities are very different. The nature of the relationships are different. We would like to move forward in both cases but we understand that the pace and scope in both cases is going to be very different,” said the official

"H1 B visa non-issue at this point"

A discussion on H-1B visa is not likely when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump meet on Monday. The White House official said a review of the visa programme is underway and nothing has changed materially yet. 

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“On the visa issue, there is no plan for it to come up specifically. But you know, if it’s raised.... the administration has signed some executive orders related to work visas and immigration which directs the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labour and Secretary of Homeland Security to propose potential reforms to the H-1B program. Right now, nothing has changed with respect to application or issuance procedures. We’re not in a position to pre-judge what the outcome of that review might be. There’s really been no changes at this point. There’s no changes that target any specific sector yet,” the official said. 

Though there has been much rhetoric about it, the Congress-mandated visa programme cannot be unilaterally amended by the executive. The review currently underway could make some changes that could be done through executive action, and recommend other changes to Congress. Any radical changes in the programme will have to be undertaken through a legislative process. The Trump administration has also indicated that the larger questions could be added on to the immigration reform debate, in which case, any change would be long drawn and difficult

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