Delhi awaits Trump visit but Washington remains quiet

Wire India Staff

New Delhi, July 14, 2018

Four years ago, then US President Barack Obama was the Chief Guest at Narendra Modi’s first Republic Day celebration as Prime Minister.

The Indian government is now hoping that Modi’s tenure will be book-ended with Donald Trump as the Republic Day chief guest in 2019.

No reply yet

The Times of India reported on Friday that the invitation for Trump had been sent in April. However, there has no official confirmation yet, though the White House is apparently “favourably considering” the invitation.

Modi had invited Trump to visit India during the former’s visit to Washington in 2017.

But no dates had been discussed at that time.

Securing a Presidential visit for Republic Day would help the two governments dispel the prevailing notion that relations have started to drift. This notion gained ground after the US postponed the ‘2+2’ dialogue at the last minute as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had to travel to North Korea on July 6.

At the time, Indian officials had said that they understood that DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) was the “Number One Foreign Policy Priority” for the Trump administration. The dialogue has now been scheduled for the first week of September, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Friday, July 13, 2018.

Even so, the postponement led to a flurry of columns that the relationship had lost the spark.

Strains over Russia deal

The episode was coupled with strains over the implementation over the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CATSAA), which would have penalised India for making significant defence purchases from Russia.

Meanwhile, India has imposed retaliatory tariffs on US products after Washington slapped higher import duties on Indian aluminium and steel. India had not got a waiver, despite a request to the US.

New Delhi is also grappling with the fallout of US’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the imposition of sanctions against Tehran, which could impact India’s energy security and strategic connectivity projects.

While the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) has refused to comment on the invitation, sources confirmed that there has been no green light yet from the US.

It is not clear whether the precedence of Obama having been the Chief Guest before indicates which way the decision may swing, since the former real estate tycoon has displayed a motivation to unravel the foreign policy legacies of his predecessor, like he did with the Iran nuclear deal.

Indian officials are clearly hoping that Obama’s visit may motivate Trump to visit India to make his mark.

However, sources also said it would be best to reign in expectations on whether Trump will be seated in the VVIP enclosure at Rajghat in January 2019.

“In terms of deliverables, there may not be much difference whether the visit takes place in January or February. The only difference would be in the optics.”

President Trump is, of course, known to have a penchant for pomp and finery.

He was so impressed with the Bastille Day Parade in Paris last July that he ordered the Pentagon to start preparing for one at home, much “like the one in France.”

The above article appeared in The Wire, (thewire.in) Web Edition on July 14, 2018. It has been reproduced here with the permission of Siddharth Varadarajan, also a Founding Editor. Established in India on May 10, 2015, as an editorially and financially independent entity, The Wire is committed to promoting the values of democracy and journalism.

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Photo Caption:

  1. Narendra Modi with Barack and Michelle Obama at Republic Day Parade, January 2015.

(Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

  1. Narendra Modi with Donald Trump (NDTV Picture)

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