Tribune News Service
New Delhi, February 22
US President Donald Trump will raise the issue of religious freedom in India, both publicly and in his private interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to India beginning next week.
“Trump would particularly raise the issue of religious freedom, which is extremely important to this administration,” said a White House official. “The President will talk about our shared tradition of democracy and religious freedom both in his public remarks and then certainly in private,” he said. Sidestepping a question on mediation, the official said Trump would encourage reduction in tensions between India and Pakistan by dialogue, which could start if Islamabad continues with the momentum to crack down on terrorists and extremists on its territory.
“We continue to look for that. But I think the President will urge both countries to maintain peace and stability along the LoC and refrain from actions or statements that increase tension in the region,” said the official. Against the backdrop of US panels that say Trump is critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Trump would tell PM Modi that the “world is looking to India to uphold its democratic traditions and respect for religious minorities”.
But Trump’s talking point in this respect will be a friendly counsel as was evident from the official stating that the US has “great respect for India’s democratic traditions and institutions, and we will continue to encourage India to uphold those traditions. We are concerned about some of the issues”.
This dissonance apart, the trip is aimed at a demonstration of “strong and enduring ties” between the two countries, exemplified by the “very close relationship” between Trump and PM Modi.Economic and energy ties and defence and security cooperation will be key areas of discussion during the visit.
In the economic sphere, the US indicated continuing dissatisfaction with Modi government’s Make in India because import duty has increased in successive years.
Coupled with divergences on e-commerce and digital trade, both sides also need to address several service and goods access barriers. The US will ask India to buy more of its oil to pare the trade deficit over and above the purchases of $7 billion so far.
“Recent announcements on Make in India have made the protectionism concerns in India even greater, so we will be discussing those concerns. And what we see is an increase in barriers, not a decrease. This will certainly come up among the leaders,” he observed while hinting at the possibility of several significant commercial deals in a number of key sectors.
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