Despite a lack of concrete deliverables, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inaugural meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House June 26 was a success, say Indian American foreign policy analysts and business leaders.
“The fact that the two leaders hit it off in what was a highly personable encounter was in fact a great outcome,” Ashley Tellis, Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told India-West. “Trump's endorsement of India's convictions about terrorism — and the designation of Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist — was a huge gain for India,” said the Indian American foreign policy analyst.
The Pakistan-based Hizbul Mujahideen leader Salahuddin — a Kashmir separatist — was declared a global terrorist by the U.S. hours before Modi met Trump.
Tellis said Modi and Trump acted in concert at the summit to repudiate the “assertive” behavior of China in Asia outcome.
The White House announcement of its decision to sell India 22 Guardian unarmed aerial vehicles — drones — was also a significant move forward, said Tellis, revealing that the deal had been finalized despite the opposition of several bureaucracies within the Trump administration.
India wants to purchase armed drones; Tellis said he hopes the administration will sell the armed UAVs – known as Predators – to India, but added that it will take more work.
“All told, these are significant achievements from a meeting that until it was complete had both sides quite uncertain,” he said.
Tellis noted that Trump is skeptical about Pakistan's record on combating terrorism, despite the U.S. dependence of Pakistan for its military operations in Afghanistan. He added that more work must be done in the area of sharing defense intelligence between the two countries.
USINPAC chairman Sanjay Puri told India-West he had been skeptical about the Modi/Trump summit before it began, but said it was a good, first “get to know each other” meeting.
“Modi is business-oriented, as is Trump,” said Puri, noting that the ongoing relationship will be largely transactional. “There is a real window of opportunity for India here,” he said, noting that if India can check off metaphoric boxes on trade deals – such as whether it is strategic to U.S. interests, or creates American jobs – “the sale is going to happen, if America comes first.”
Despite the bilateral pronouncement of Pakistan as a bad actor, Puri said Trump will continue to see Pakistan as an ally, as long as the U.S. has some presence in Afghanistan.
“He cannot mess up that relationship. Aid will still go. Strategic conversations will still flow,” said Puri.
Venture capitalist Deven Verma, a partner at Edgewood Venture Partners, told India-West that the Trump/Modi meeting has made him more optimistic about investing in India. Former President Barack Obama and Modi shared a great kinship, but “not much was happening for India.”
The prime minister needs to create further reforms to make India investor-friendly, said Verma. Modi has made a lot of changes in regulatory reform, virtually dispensing with the middle man in many sectors, said Verma. “He is taking the country in the right direction.”
Indiaspora founder M.R. Rangaswami told India-West he had hoped the meeting would result in the announcement of the next U.S. ambassador to India, a position that has been vacant since Jan. 21, when former Ambassador Richard Verma was asked to step down.
Rangaswami also noted that the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act contained a proviso that creates a staff position to facilitate defense technology transfer to India. That role has not been filled, he said, noting that several India-focused roles in the State Department have also been left vacant.
Indiaspora held a summit on the sidelines of the Modi/Trump meet, focusing on politics, policy, and philanthropy. The general consensus of the policy panel was that Modi’s reforms are making progress, said Rangaswami.
The Indian American community leader said he was glad that the Trump administration announced at the meeting that the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit will be held in India this fall. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, will lead the U.S. delegation at the summit.
Trump and Modi did not announce whether the successful Strategic and Commercial Dialogues – an Obama initiative which requires the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Commerce to meet once a year with their counterparts in India, and nail down issues related to trade, defense, joint military exercises, and intellectual property. – would continue. But Rangaswami said that analysts at the Indiaspora summit believed the dialogues would continue in some form.
“I had not expected more,” he said of the Modi/Trump summit, adding: “This was as good as one could expect.”
Manish Bapna, executive vice president of the World Resources Institute, criticized the meeting for the absence of a discussion on climate change. “This omission signifies discord, not apathy, on climate, and lies in stark contrast to the productive U.S.-India talks of recent years.”
Trump announced June 1 that the U.S. would pull out of the seminal Paris climate change accord, greatly weakening the scope of the international treaty. Speaking two days later in France, Modi pledged that India was committed to the accord and would go “above and beyond” its principles to strengthen “our duty to Mother Earth.
“Trump and Modi are in pursuit of enhanced international security and economic growth, but the reality is that vulnerability to climate impacts foments political instability, and countries cannot make lasting development gains without acting on climate change,” said Bapna in a press statement.
“Diplomatic pragmatism may have prevailed today, but next week’s G20 summit offers a prime opportunity for like-minded leaders to put climate change back at the heart of the global agenda.”
The two leaders will meet again at the G20 summit, which begins July 7 in Hamburg, Germany.