Within a couple of hours from now, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet US President Donald Trump for their first one-on-one exchange at the White House that may last for 20 minutes to be followed by respective delegations joining the bilateral discussions.
The carrots are already flying in each other’s direction with the US declaring Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, a move that vindicates India’s stand against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. In return, what India offers will be seen at a joint press meeting four hours later.
Otherwise, in display of special relations with India, the White House will host a dinner for PM Modi, which is the first for a foreign dignitary by President Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump. Vice President Mike Pence will host a cocktail reception prior to it though.
Trump has sent out friendly gestures describing Prime Minister Modi as a “true friend!”, which could be an indication that the White House is pleased with India’s bid to place an order for $2 billion worth 22 drones for use in Southeast Asian corridor, squarely aimed at China and the growing unease over the South China Sea.
The delegation level meetings are being attended by top Indian officials including National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and the Indian Ambassador to the US, Navtej Sarna, while the US side will be represented by Vice President Mike Pence, Defence Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor Lt Gen HR McMaster.
India is keen that Washington DC increases its troops to at least 5,000 more in Afghanistan in the wake of recent attacks on US and Indian embassies and repeated terrorist attacks in Kabul, among others.
What both sides want to avoid is a direct confrontation on Trump administration’s recent decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement and Modi has not uttered a word against Trump so far and may not raise it in his one-on-one meeting either.
Another contentious issue that has to crop up is the H1 B visa that many IT companies, NASCOM and ASSOCHAM have urged Modi to raise during the meeting with Trump. It remains to be seen whether the US administration seeks to dilute its stand or offer some other olive branch in the form of a temporary relief.
If that happens, Modi will be a happy man to return home thumping on his success. But knowing Trump, some surprises will always pop up from his magic box at the most unexpected time and venue.