New York: The bonhomie and bonding between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump was quite evident, but the real story coming from the New York meeting was that the US leader seems to have abandoned talk of mediation in the Kashmir issue, leaving India and Pakistan to sort out things bilaterally.
Building on camaraderie and mutual admiration at the “Howdy Modi” show in Houston, Mr Modi and Mr Trump held bilateral talks on the margins of the UNGA on September 24 and focused primarily o issues relating to trade and investment and terrorism. This was the fourth engagement between the two leaders since PM Modi was re-elected with a spectacular majority in the May 2019 elections.
No mediation in Kashmir
For India, the big takeaway was Mr Trump’s tacit admission and belated recognition that the Kashmir issue is best resolved by India and Pakistan bilaterally. In a big relief to India and a vindication of New Delhi’s position, Mr Trump, who has annoyed India many a time in recent weeks with his comments on Kashmir, did not mention mediation in his opening remarks or in his 35-minutes talks with Mr Modi.
Instead, Mr Trump underlined that the prime ministers of India and Pakistan could “get together and work something [out]”.
Ahead of his talks with Mr Modi, Mr Trump underscored that it was not for him to give any message to Pakistan on cross-border terrorism as Mr Modi had already given a “pretty loud message.”
The Modi-Trump meeting saw an exhaustive meeting on Pakistan-origin terrorism and broader counter-terror cooperation between the two countries. PM Modi conveyed to Mr Trump how India has suffered from terrorism in the past five years, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. In Jammu and Kashmir alone, 42,000 lives have been lost due to terrorist attacks, PM Modi told Mr Trump, according to Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale. PM Modi also impressed upon Mr Trump that India has never shied away from talks with Pakistan, but Pakistan has not taken action against perpetrators of terror attacks in India.
“India’s overtures to Pakistan have never been reciprocated. The perpetrators of terror attacks have never been brought to justice,” PM Modi told Mr Trump. “It’s incumbent upon the two world community to fight this scourge of terrorism,” said Mr Gokhale.
Modi-Trump mutual admiration club
The show-stealer was effusive praise by both leaders for each other. Mr Trump extolled Mr Modi as the “father of India” for unifying the country together and compared him to king of rock and roll Elvis Presley for his crowd-pulling magic at “Howdy Mody” show in Houston, in which Mr Trump shared praise with the Indian leader. “He is the father of India and is like Elvis,” Mr Trump said in response to a question by India Writes Network.
Mr Modi was also all praise for Mr Trump. “I am thankful to Trump that he came to Houston. He is my friend but he is also a good friend of India,” said PM Modi. “In the four months since our government came back, I have had the chance of meeting President Trump thrice and we have held detailed and fruitful discussions on different issues. The continuous engagement and closeness between the largest and oldest democracies is a great sign for a world that believes in democratic values,” the Prime Minister said.
Trade deal a work in progress
The Modi-Trump talks were constructive and forward-looking, marked by a strong convergence on terrorism, but a trade deal remained elusive, at least for now.
“Significant progress has been made and differences have been narrowed. The two leaders are optimistic that the two countries will be able to reach a trade agreement. It’s a symbiotic relationship,” said Mr Gokhale.
“There are complex issues that concern domestic industry and jobs in both countries. This requires give-and-take. We are optimistic that we will be able to conclude the trade deal.”
“We will have a trade deal soon. We will have a bigger trade deal down the road,” Mr Trump said.
The two leaders, therefore, felt that they were optimistic in terms of reaching some kind of a trade agreement in the near future. And discussions will continue in this regard,” said Mr Gokhale.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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