US President Donald Trump has said Prime Minister Narendra Modi feels he has the situation in Kashmir “under control” and that India and Pakistan could handle the issue on their own, reiterating New Delhi’s position that the issue is a bilateral one.
The two leaders, who met for the first time since India scrapped the special status to Jammu and Kashmir, also agreed to a meeting of trade ministers ahead of Modi’s September visit to New York to address sticky trade issues that the two countries have been working at ironing out.
Trump’s remarks on Kashmir, made ahead of a bilateral meeting with Modi on the margins of the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, came a month after he angered New Delhi by saying the Indian premier had asked him to mediate on the issue. Modi said India welcomed suggestions from the US on many matters but did not reach out to other countries to resolve bilateral issues with Pakistan.
“We spoke last night about Kashmir and the prime minister really feels he has it under control. They speak with Pakistan and I’m sure that they will be able to do something that will be very good,” Trump said in response to a question from a reporter.
Modi added: “All the issues between India and Pakistan are of bilateral nature and because of this, we do not trouble any country of the world about these issues. I believe India and Pakistan, which were one before 1947, we can together discuss our problems and solve them.”
The Q and A session with Trump and Modi was marked by bonhomie and banter. At one point, as Modi was finishing responding in Hindi to a question, Trump quipped that the Indian Prime Minister actually speaks very good English but chooses not to.
The two enjoyed a laugh over the quip, clasped hands briefly, and Modi playfully slapped the US President’s arm. If the idea was to convey that the two leaders and countries shared a warm relationship, it worked.
Pressed by another reporter on his offer of mediation on the Kashmir issue, Trump replied: “I’m here, we have a very good relationship with both gentlemen (Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan), and I’m here. If for any reason, but I think they can do it themselves, they’ve been doing it for a long time.” Modi said there were many bilateral issues between India and Pakistan and that he had told Khan soon after his election last year that the two countries have to fight poverty, illiteracy and disease.
“I have given this message to the Pakistan prime minister and with President Trump, I always talk about bilateral issues between us,” he added.
Pakistan has stepped up efforts to internationalise the Kashmir issue since India revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5. On Monday, Khan said during an address to the nation that Modi’s decision was a “historic blunder” that had opened the doors for “Kashmir’s freedom”.
US officials had said ahead of the meeting on the margins of the G7 Summit that Trump intended to raise a security lockdown and communications blackout in Kashmir with the Indian side. It was not immediately clear whether this issue had figured in discussions between Trump and Modi during a dinner on Sunday night.
A US readout of the 40-minute meeting said Trump had “reaffirmed the need for dialogue between India and Pakistan to reduce tensions and acknowledged India’s role as a critical partner in Afghanistan”.
Briefing the media in Biarritz, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said Modi had made India’s position on Kashmir clear to Trump on Sunday night and there was no further discussion at Monday’s meeting. The Kashmir issue also hadn’t figured in Modi’s meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday, he added.
There was “some discussion” on the Kashmir issue when Modi met UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Sunday, and the prime minister laid out India’s position on Article 370 of the Constitution being an internal matter, and that New Delhi had taken no step on the international front “in any way or form to threaten regional peace and stability”, Gokhale said.
He contended normalcy was returning to Jammu and Kashmir and restrictions had been substantially eased or entirely removed in many areas. Gokhale said Modi had underlined the primary threat was the terrorism faced by the people and the state for more than 30 years.
Gokhale said Monday’s meeting between Modi and Trump was focussed on trade and energy. The two leaders agreed that before Modi’s visit to Washington in September, the trade ministers of the two sides should discuss the whole range of trade issues, he said.
Robust ties between India and the US have been buffeted by differences on a range of trade issues, including tariffs, market access and withdrawal of benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences programme.
Gokhale said Modi spoke of the importance of energy imports from the US, including $4 billion in imports already in the pipeline and India’s expectation “to step it up”.
Modi also said he intended to hold a roundtable with CEOs of top energy companies in Houston during his US visit to see how to import more energy from the US and to boost Indian investments in the US energy sector.
Modi also told Trump India is now in a “forward-looking position” on trade issues following his re-election and he reiterated his offer to send commerce minister Piyush Goyal to Washington to discuss all trade issues.
(With agency inputs from Biarritz)