U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that India will buy 3 billion U.S. dollars' worth of military equipment, including attack helicopters, as the two countries deepen defense and commercial ties that echo Trump's Indo-Pacific strategy.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi embrace after giving a joint statement in New Delhi, India, February 25, 2020. (Photos: AP)
India and the United States were also making progress on a big trade deal, Trump said. Negotiators from the two sides have wrangled for months to narrow differences on farm goods, medical devices, digital trade and new tariffs.
Trump was given a massive reception in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state on Monday, with more than 100,000 people filling into a cricket stadium for a "Namaste Trump" rally.
On Tuesday, Trump sat down for one-on-one talks with Modi followed by delegation-level meetings to try and move forward on issues that have divided them, mainly the festering trade dispute.
After these meetings Trump said his visit had been productive, with the conclusion of deals to buy helicopters for the Indian military. India is buying 24 SeaHawk helicopters from Lockheed Martin equipped with Hellfire missiles worth 2.6 billion U.S. dollars and also plans a follow-on order for six Apache helicopters.
India is modernizing its military and has increasingly turned to the United States over traditional supplier, Russia.
Trump said the two countries were also making progress on a trade deal, which had been an area of growing friction between them.
"Our teams have made tremendous progress on a comprehensive trade agreement and I'm optimistic we can reach a deal that will be of great importance to both countries," said Trump in remarks made alongside Modi.
The two countries had initially planned to produce a "mini deal," but that proved elusive.
Instead both sides are now aiming for a bigger package, including possibly a free trade agreement.
"The United States has to be treated fairly and India understands that," he told a news conference, saying that "if a deal happens with India, it will be towards the end of the year."
While minor compared to his battle with China, Trump has imposed tariffs on Indian steel and aluminium and suspended duty-free access for certain goods in an effort to cut a 25-billion-U.S.-dollar trade deficit with Asia's third-biggest economy.
Under pressure to deliver ahead of his November reelection battle, Trump has pressed for greater access to the vast Indian market of 1.3 billion people for U.S. dairy producers and makers of medical goods.
But Modi, battling to fire up a slowing economy hampered by inflation and a widening budget deficit, has responded with higher tariffs on U.S. goods including 600 million U.S. dollars' worth of Californian almonds.
Trump said he also discussed with Modi, whom he called his "dear friend," the importance of a secure 5G telecoms network in India, ahead of a planned airwaves auction by the country.
Hug gets tighter
Trump failed to strike a trade deal with India at the end of a visit big on photo opportunities but short on substance and overshadowed by deadly riots.
India is one of the few big countries in the world where Trump's personal approval rating is above 50 percent. Trump's trip received wall-to-wall media coverage with commentators saying he had hit all the right notes on his first official visit to the world's biggest democracy.
They were also effusive in their praise of Modi for pulling off a spectacular reception for Trump.
"Modi-Trump hug gets tighter," ran a headline in the Times of India.
On the other hand, most websites of all major English dailies in Pakistan ran the headline on the lines that Trump said in Ahmedabad that the 'US has a very good relationship with Pakistan'.
The reporters also quoted Trump as saying, "Our relationship with Pakistan is a very good one and thanks to these efforts, we are beginning to see signs of big progress with Pakistan."
Paramilitary troops patrol in a riot affected area after clashes erupted between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, February 25, 2020.
But in a sign of the underlying political tensions in India, violent protests broke out in Delhi on Monday over a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims and is a further attempt to undermine the secular foundations of India's democracy. They say the law is part of a pattern of divisiveness being followed by Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
At least seven people were killed and about 150 injured in the clashes that took place in another part of the capital, away from the center of the city where Modi was hosting Trump.
In his speech on Monday, Trump extolled India's rise as a stable and prosperous democracy as one of the achievements of the century. "You have done it as a tolerant country. And you have done it as a great, free country," he said.