“I love India, give my regards to my friend PM Narendra Modi:” Donald Trump greets Sushma Swaraj

“I love India, give my regards to my friend PM Narendra Modi:” Donald Trump greets Sushma Swaraj

United States President Donald Trump on Monday, September 24, 2018 exchanged pleasantries with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and asked her to “give regards” from his end to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Both Trump and Swaraj interacted during a high-level event on counter-narcotics hosted by the US President at the United Nations on Monday. As Trump left the podium at the conclusion of the event, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warmly hugged Swaraj and introduced her to the president.

When Swaraj told the US president that she has brought greetings from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Trump responded, “I love India, give my regards to my friend PM Modi,” Indian diplomatic sources told PTI.  Swaraj attended the Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem chaired by Trump as the high-level week of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly began here.

The India-US cooperation is poised to enter a new phase with the United States of America having moved India up into tier-1 of the “Strategic Trade Authorisation” for unlicensed export of sensitive Defence items to India. This is generally reserved for western countries and key allies. Exception for India is, without doubt, a strong political statement by the US and India’s recognition as its major strategic and Defense partner. Clearly, new dynamics are emerging in our bilateral relations. Recent approval by the US for supply of armed Sea Guardian drones to India — which were hitherto sold only to NATO countries — also needs to be seen in that light.

India and the US are the leading democracies in the world. If one traces the evolution of relationship between the two countries at the people’s level, which is important given our democratic traditions, one finds growing resonance and positivity. Almost everyone in India admires the great values of liberty, enterprise and freedom in the US and aspires to send his children there to study and work. There is also considerable goodwill in the US towards India; according to the gallop poll last year, 74 per cent people in the US are favorably disposed towards India.

Ties between the countries too remain somewhat awkward, marked by periods of intense engagement with the promise of elevating relations to a new height – the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy called India a “leading global power”, not the “regional power” it was under President Barack Obama.

More recently, there has been a marked uptick in economic frictions, with Trump’s sharp rhetoric and protectionist measures, including tariffs on steel and aluminium, that have added to a long list of differences over market access and intellectual property rights.

There is also the threat of “secondary sanctions” that could curtail India’s ability to buy oil from Iran, its third largest supplier, and weapons such as the S-400 air defence systems from Russia, a long-time and trusted supplier of military hardware (though there is understanding of India’s concerns on this).

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert with Wilson Center, said, “Despite the tensions of recent days, the relationship will be fine. There’s plenty of goodwill and trust to see it through the bumps in the road.”

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