U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to raise U.S.’s concerns around the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he visits India next week, as per senior administration officials who had a briefing call with reporters on Friday.
Mr. Trump will also encourage a reduction in tensions and bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan while in India.
The comments are significant at a time when there is growing concern in Washington over India’s adherence to democratic processes and traditions, namely, Parliament’s passage of the CAA and the establishment of the NRC in Assam.
In response to a question on whether Mr. Trump will raise the CAA and NRC with Mr. Modi, the official said the administration is “concerned” about these issues and that Mr. Trump will talk about these issues with Prime Minister Modi. Particularly, Mr Trump is expected to raise the “religious freedom issue” which is “extremely important” to the current U.S. administration as well as discuss shared traditions of democracy and religious freedom “both in public remarks and certainly in private,” the official said.
“Prime Minister Modi in his first speech after winning the election last year, talked about how he would prioritize being inclusive of Indian religious minorities. And certainly the world looks to India to maintain religious liberty and equal treatment for all under the rule of law,” the official said.
Trump to encourage bilateral dialogue on Kashmir
Responding to a question on whether Mr. Trump will offer to mediate between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, the official said Kashmir will be raised and Mr. Trump would very much encourage a “reduction in tensions” between India and Pakistan and encourage them to engage in bilateral dialogue to resolve differences.
“We continue to believe a core foundation of any successful dialogue between the two is based on continued momentum in Pakistan’s efforts to crack down on terrorist extremists on its territory. We continue to look for that. I think the President will urge both countries to seek to maintain peace and stability along the line of control and refrain from actions or statements that could increase tensions in the region,” the official said.
On whether Mr. Trump would ask India to send troops to Afghanistan, where the U.S. announced it has finalised an agreement with the Taliban to reduce violence, the official said if the Afghanistan issue were to come up during Mr. Trump’s India visit, the U.S. would look to India to support the peace process.
GSP likely to stay suspended for now
One official indicated that India’s benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), the U.S.’s preferential market access system for developing countries, was unlikely to be restored immediately. Restoring some degree of benefits has been on the negotiating table as the two countries try to hammer out a mini trade deal.
The concerns that led to the revocation of GSP access remain concerns for us, one of the administration officials said.
“We want to address a bunch…a lot of concerns and we’re not quite there yet. We will likely have discussions with the Prime Minister about these concerns and continue the discussion beyond the visit,” the official said.
The official said a number of announcements from India in the “past several weeks” have increased U.S. concerns around protectionism. Among the concerns of the U.S. on the trade front have been the 2019 draft e-commerce policy, the personal data privacy law, announcements in the Union Budget which included tariff increases on various agricultural commodities and a ‘health cess’ that would impact medical device imports.
“Whether or not there will be an announcement on a trade package is really wholly dependent upon what the Indians are prepared to do. That said, we have a number of significant commercial deals, which are of great significance that we’re very pleased to announce in a number of key sectors,” the official said.
Defence deals of up to $3.5 billion for MH-60R helicopters and apache attack helicopters have been approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security.
“The President is going to India as a demonstration of the strong and enduring ties between our two countries,” the official said.
“These are ties based on shared democratic traditions, common strategic interests, and enduring bonds between our people.”
The official said the visit would focus on building the economic and energy ties between the U.S. and India. There would also be a focus on security and defence cooperation – against terrorism and to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“The U.S. wants an India that is strong, with a capable military that supports peace, stability and a rules-based order in Indo-Pacific region. Indeed India is a pillar of our Indo-Pacific strategy and we continue to work together to promote this vision of a free and open international system based on market economics, good governance, freedom of the seas and skies and respect for sovereignty.”
The following individuals will accompany President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump on their India visit as per the officials: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s daughter and son in law who are also senior advisors; Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, U.S. NSA Robert O’Brien, Senior Avdisor Stephen Miller, Dan Scavino, Chief of Staff to the First Lady, Lindsey Reynolds, senior White House staffer Rob Blair, Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai, Director for South and Central Asia on the National Security Council Lisa Curtis and advisor in the Office of National Intelligence Kash Patel.