Trump sings ‘Modi-is-Great’ tune after friendly COVID-19 sparring

The COVID-19 threatened to go viral and cast a shadow over the India-US relations, but only fleetingly. A day after he vaguely spoke about retaliation, US President Donald Trump lavished praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after India lifted a temporary ban on anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine that will allow Indian firms to export the medicine to the US, where it has been seen as a potential antidote.

Mr Trump described the drug as a game-changer in the fight against coronavirus even as researchers grappled to find a scientifically-backed cure for the disease. The US health experts are divided over the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of COVID-19. While some say it may stand some chance against the virus others point at the lack of evidence. Mr Trump, however, said he would go for it even if there is a small possibility to save lives.

The American leader had threatened to take retaliatory measures against India if the request was turned down, claiming that it was unfair in the light of the alleged trade advantages it had taken from the US over the years. But Mr Trump seemed to have changed his earlier tough stance during a television interview with Sean Hannity of the Fox News.

PM Modi was really good: Trump

“I bought millions of doses (of hydroxychloroquine). More than 29 million. I spoke to Prime Minister Modi; a lot of it (hydroxychloroquine) comes out of India. I asked him if he would release it. He was great. He was really good,” Mr Trump told the channel on April 8, hours after he aired his frustration at a White House press briefing on the same day.

“You know they put a stop because they wanted it for India, but there are a lot of good things coming from that (hydroxychloroquine),” Trump added.

Mr Trump had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lift the ban on hydroxychloroquine during a phone call on April 6.

Earlier in the day, responding to a media query on whether India had positively responded to his request, Trump said: “We’d appreciate you allowing our supply to come out; if he doesn’t allow it to come out, that would be okay but, of course, there may be retaliation.”

“I don’t like that decision. I know that he stopped it for other countries, I spoke to him yesterday. We had a very good talk, and we’ll see whether or not that’s his decision. I would be surprised if he would, you know because India does very well with the United States,” Trump said.

Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs .

Signaling India’s decision to partially remove the hold, India’s Ministry of External Affairs cautioned against politicizing the issue. “Our first obligation is to ensure there are adequate stocks of medicines for the requirement of our own people. After having confirmed the availability of medicines for all possible contingencies, these restrictions have been largely lifted,” said Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs .

“Trump’s threat comment triggered a heated debate in sections of the media and strategic community about the pandemic testing the strength of the India-US relationship. But this was misreading and overreaction. If one has tracked Trump’s public persona carefully, it was just one of trademark Trump jibes,” said Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India and the World magazine and India Writes Network.

“The coronavirus challenge will only bring India and the US closer and make pandemics an important area of their bilateral cooperation,” said Mr Chand.

Around 400,000 Americans have been tested positive even as the death toll rose to over 12,000 as on April 8, according to various news reports.

In another development, President Trump has called for a meeting of the UNSC to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. The US is expected to raise the issue of China’s lack of transparency in dealing with the crisis in the initial stages of the pandemic. Mr Trump has also accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of ignoring China’s lapses in containing the virus, which allowed the pandemic to spread to other countries.

(Sanjeeb Baruah contributed inputs for this article; edited by Shweta Aggarwal)

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