By Steve Herman and Anjana Pasricha
President Donald Trump said Monday the United States will sign an agreement to sell $3 billion worth of U.S. helicopters and other equipment to India’s military.
The announcement came as Trump spoke at a welcome rally called “Namaste Trump” in the city of Ahmedabad, where a crowd of more than 100,000 people had gathered to hear from him and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Ahead of the visit, Trump had said a new major trade deal between the two countries would not be part of this trip. But in his address he promised the two countries will be making “among the biggest ever trade deals,” and said he is optimistic that he and Modi can reach “a good, even great deal” for both sides.
Modi also struck an optimistic note about a potential trade agreement, saying ties were expanding in spheres ranging from defense, the energy sector and information technology, and that a resurgent India would present new opportunities for the U.S.
Calling the two countries “natural partners,” Modi said they can help bring peace, progress and security not just in the Indo-Pacific region, but in the entire world.
“We are inspired by a long-term vision, not just short term considerations,” Modi said.
During a mainly off-the-record conversation with reporters on the short flight from Ahmedabad to Agra, Trump was asked by VOA if there was any single contentious sector holding up a big trade deal.
“I am in no rush” to conclude a trade pact, responded the president. “We are doing well with India, we are making deals.”
Despite no announcement of a trade deal, analysts say the visit is mutually beneficial to both leaders.
“They both want to be seen as strong leaders,” said Aparna Pande, director of Hudson Institute’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia, adding that both leaders see parallels in each other as they are nationalist-populists who want their economy to grow and the military to be powerful.
Trump began his address Monday by uttering the Indian greeting “Namaste,” and said that India “will always hold a special place in our hearts.”
“America loves India. America respects India. And America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people,” Trump said.
Despite mispronunciations, the U.S. president drew applause when he dropped names of Indian Bollywood stars and cricket players.
He celebrated India as a successful democracy, and said both countries are committed to working together to fight terrorism.
“Our borders will always be closed to terrorists and terrorism and all forms of extremism,” Trump said.
Trump’s visit opened with a red carpet-welcome at the airport in Ahmedabad, in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. Thousands of people then cheered along a motorcade route as Trump and Modi traveled a short distance to a stop at Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram.
Human rights issues
Trump’s visit comes at the heels of protests against India’s new citizenship law, that critics say marginalizes the country’s more than 200 million Muslims – a charge the Modi government denies. Some members of the U.S. Congress are also expressing concern about the law that fast tracks Indian citizenship to immigrants from three neighboring countries – unless they are Muslims.
At the rally, Trump hinted at India’s status as a pluralistic society.
“Your nation has always been admired around the earth as the place where millions upon millions of Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs and Jains worship side by side in harmony,” he said.
Analysts expect that’s about as far as the U.S. leader would push on the issue.
“The State Department does say that we want India to do more and to abide by its constitutional rights and false minorities,” Pande said but that “top level U.S. officials have avoided any statement on India’s human rights citizenship act.”
On Monday one policeman was killed as violent protests erupted in New Delhi as clashes erupted between those protesting against the citizenship law and those supporting it hours ahead of President Trump’s arrival in the city.
On his first day in India, Trump also avoided any mention of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region that India and Pakistan is fighting over. Last year Trump offered to mediate on the Kashmir dispute, which Islamabad welcomed but New Delhi rejected.
“Attempts to lecture, coerce, punish, intervene in India’s affairs have traditionally not been particularly effective,” Smith, of the Heritage Foundation, said.
Ending his first day in India, the U.S. president, who once owned the former Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, took in views of the real Indian iconic landmark with first lady Melania Trump.
Trump is the fourth consecutive U.S. president to travel to India, continuing the shift in allegiance by Washington to Delhi from India’s arch-rival and neighbor, Pakistan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, after a recent meeting with Trump during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, said the U.S. president also promised to visit Pakistan soon.
If “there is no complementary visit to Pakistan or no side agreement on some other way to assuage concerns there, then I think Pakistan will take it as a slight,” said Richard Russow, senior adviser for U.S.-India policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
VOA White House correspondent Pasty Widakuswara contributed to this report.
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