Wednesday, 25 May, 2022
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When Narendra Modi felt Donald Trump treated him like ‘just another Asian leader’

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In the US, Trump and Modi hit it off. In Manila, the warmth was missing. Wednesday’s cancellation of talks reflects sliding India-US ties.

New Delhi: The clear and present deterioration in India-US ties over the past eight months can be traced to a meeting between Narendra Modi and Donald Trump in November 2017, when the Prime Minister felt the US President didn’t greet him with the same warmth he had received during his visit to Washington five months ago in June.

In the latest setback, the US has cancelled a high-profile ‘2+2’ dialogue with India, scheduled for 6 July, citing “unavoidable reasons”.

When Modi met Trump for the first time in Washington they seem to have hit it off — Trump even approvingly told Modi that he had a “friendly press”. By the time they met at the ASEAN summit in Manila for the third time in November 2017, sources said Modi felt Trump “treated him like just another Asian leader”.

It is unclear whether the slight was intended by Trump or not. The sparring between Modi and Trump was said to have taken place over trade-related matters. A couple of months later, these issues would take on a life of their own.

A love-hate relationship

The PM felt something had substantially changed since the warmth with which Trump had met him in Washington, the sources said.

But he decided to keep his word by travelling to Hyderabad to meet Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit later in November.

Soon, the “special relationship” with Delhi began to take on the character of a roller-coaster.

One moment there was Trump’s New Year tweet, accusing Pakistan of “lies and deceit” — a phrase that would have normally warmed the cockles of Modi’s heart, considering his tough policy on Pakistan. But weeks later, Trump was outing the telephone call that Modi had made to him in early February, promising that India would slash tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles.

In between, as Trump up-ended his own establishment as well as the international order with breathless intensity — sacking officials at home and reaching out to authoritarian leaders like Kim Jong-un abroad — few realised the changes taking place in New Delhi.

In the new year, for example, the prime minister pointedly made his first diplomatic telephone call to India’s old friend — Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

With the Doklam standoff recently resolved, the “course correction” in India’s foreign policy towards China had begun.

It is in this background that the abrupt cancellation — the second time in three months — of the 6 July scheduled meeting of the foreign and defence ministers of India and the US should be seen.

The US media is speculating that Trump is meeting Putin on the exact date. Another theory doing the rounds is that US secretary of state Mike Pompeo may be travelling to Pyongyang to take forward the détente with North Korea by which Trump has set much store.

Both Indian and US officials have sought to allay apprehensions. Pompeo was “deeply apologetic” when he called external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj around 9.30 pm Wednesday and told her that the talks would have to be postponed, official sources told ThePrint.

“These things happen. The India-US relationship is going very well,” the sources said.

A US embassy spokesperson in Delhi said, “The US-India partnership is a major strategic priority for the Trump administration.”

But the warm rhetoric cannot hide the reality on the ground.

Looming trade war

A minor trade war over Harley Davidson bikes, medical equipment and almonds is looming on the horizon. The US has refused to waive sanctions on India (or any other country) buying oil from Iran — the deadline to stop is 4 November. Nor have the Americans considered waiving sanctions on India on its dealings with Russia.

In the wake of the US announcement of Iran sanctions, Swaraj’s public embrace of Iranian foreign minister Javed Zarif in Delhi was noted around the world.

Of course, Delhi remains worried about the impending sanctions as it is the third largest buyer of Iran oil (China is the largest), and is now looking to find a way through friendly countries.

The US has already taken India to the WTO on $241 million worth of steel and aluminium tariffs and Delhi has retaliated by threatening to apply curbs on the import of US almonds, medical equipment, including stents and other goods.

Meanwhile, both sides are said to be readying to argue about the S-400 air defence systems that India will buy from Russia. The US Congress has given no waivers on this count so far.

The fact remains that all these tricky issues are usually par for the course for officials used to dealing with the tough and ignoble in the shifting sands of international diplomacy. But when the tension between leaders spills over into governments, then it is difficult to arrest the slide.

Changing dynamics

Only a few years ago, former PM Manmohan Singh had been professing love for former US president George Bush — his immortal words were “India loves you”.

Modi inherited that friendship. Despite the fact the Americans had banned him from entering the US because of his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, they went out of their way to make amends.

Trump’s willfulness, which includes his sacking of his own ministers at will, hasn’t helped matters.

Only in March, national security adviser Ajit Doval travelled to Washington to meet his counterpart H.R. McMaster. Within a few days he was gone, replaced by the current incumbent, John Bolton.

Delhi, like the rest of the world, is nonplussed at seeing the rapid entry and exit in the US of two secretaries of state, two chiefs of staff and three NSAs.

Pompeo’s call to Swaraj Wednesday night may certainly be due to genuine reasons. But the fact remains that the opportunity to thrash out all these prickly issues at the “2+2 meeting” has now been postponed into a future unknown.

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  1. India must not bow down to U.S on oil issue with Iran & buying defence equipment with Russia as it will give a message to ourselves and to world that India is another puppet & a follower country of U.S Moreover, Iranian oil and Russian equipment are crucial for our country. Like many other European and Asian countries India should also impose a counter sanctions on U.S to keep its sanction on check, blindly following its sanction without protest may lead to increse number of sanctions by U.S in future.

  2. One can argue about the article,but it has become obvious for temporary gains to be in good courts of POTUS,Modi has cave in to Niki Haley’s demand to curtail petroleum import from Iran.Considering independent streak of policies practiced by India since 1947(e.g Non-Aligned etc.),this act needs to protested as loudly as possible.

  3. Trump is unpredictable personality and not trust worthy as India think about him. Big brother attitude is not acceptable . Indian should not bent down on oil issue. Bargain with oil visavis defence deal with US. Give and take relation policy should be adopted.

  4. The truth is the intervention of the church which is being managed by one who is known to all. The American President is in the clutches of the Church …this is very clear by now. The USA does not wants a strong India ..neither does Europe….the decreasing dependency on them for arms and technology in particular has made a point . The increasing poularity of the Indian PM has to be pruned…too. Europe and the USA want a puppet government in India …which is missing now…growing popularity of Hindu way of living and ways of spritual enlightment is being seen as an flying frog out of the well. The church in Britain has not only praised Muslims but allowed them to offer namaz in churches…the gesture is just not about the increasing strength ….but also …a gesture where both Christianity and Islam find the Hindu way of living a threat to their future existence as well. The American tenor now is an outcome of compulsive authentic fears which are dominating their minds.

    • Really!!! We’re still completely dependent on foreign countries for our defense purchases and technology. The Rafaele deal should make that clear for everyone. As far as Christianity and Islam is concerned, Hinduism is nowhere near their numbers and neither is there any surge in people converting to Hinduism. We’re nowhere as far as the USA is concerned. Let’s try to be realistic and work on actually becoming a country that is universally recognized as a world power like China. In 1947, China was in a situation worse than India and now we can not even dream of catching up with them.

  5. the dirty mind of print reporter is narrating the story as if PM Modi himself told her how he is feeling.Cheap piece of trash. Go get a break u anti India people.

  6. This article has zero credibility. What is the evidence that PM Modi thought Trump treated him just like any other Asian leader? It’s just speculation passed off as facts by this journalist. Similarly the dubious motives ascribed to Mike pompaeos cancellation is just another piece of speculation. The other point of PM Modi’s call to Putin having something to do with Trump is yet more of the same Baseless conjecture not substantiated with facts.

    Unfortunately news journalists trying to inject gossip rag level standards of reporting to foreign policy is outright silly.

    Shame on you for this FAKE NEWS.

  7. When do our leaders, especially Modi, get into their thick heads the hard fact that foreign policy is and ought to be, dictated by mathematical calculations of self interest than by personal chemistry? Modi ought to restrain himself from his eagerness to be on back slapping terms with world leaders.

  8. Trump is a bull in a china shop, which the world has become after 9-11, sub-prime crisis and the ascent of China. Hopefully the scene will improve after 2020 when Trump is ousted. Till then grin and bear it.

  9. Foreign policy is driven by a cool appraisal of long term national interests. There is very little role for personal relations. Consider how many premiers have changed in important countries since May 2014. These issues are best left to the body of professional knowledge and expertise of the IFS cadre that mans the the MEA, along with its vast institutional memory, especially when it comes to intractable problems like China and Pakistan. The United States is critically important to India; it is a great pity that the current administration is proving so difficult to deal with, including for its closest friends and allies, an inner circle to which India has not so far been admitted. Virtually all of Indian foreign policy should be back on the drawing board. It should be guided by a sense of coherence and purpose.

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