US President Donald Trump remained non-committal and incoherent on several issues concerning India at a presser in New Delhi while using the opportunity to veer into domestic politics where he faces an election in a few months.
Speaking to reporters at the final press briefing of his two-day India visit, Trump deftly skirted several questions on the US stand on Pakistan's role in supporting terrorism while also evading pointed questions on his stand on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act and the allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's policies were anti-Muslim. He, however, reiterated his offer to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. Trump Ahead of the state dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan,
Trump also aired his displeasure over trade deficit with India and the fact that the country "unfairly" taxed US companies trying to do business. However, he did not give out any details for the ongoing trade negotiations, or a time frame within which a comprehensive trade deal could be finalised.
Trump, who held comprehensive talks with Modi on the second and the last day of his visit, said these were great and fantastic two days.
"I'm gonna be not at all controversial because... I don't want to blow the two days plus two days of travel on one answer, one little answer, like John will ask me one simple question and you will blow it out and that will be the end of the trip. You won't even talk about the trip. So I will be very conservative in my answers if you don't mind," Trump said at a press conference.
On CAA, NRC and Muslims
Speaking to the press, Trump said Tuesday that he did not raise deadly clashes over the controversial CAA with Modi during his state visit. Trump said he discussed religious freedom with Modi, and that the prime minister was "incredible" in explaining his stance.
He said there are 200 million (20 crore) Muslims in India and Modi told him that the government is working very closely with the community to resolve the differences. On the Citizenship Amendment Act, he said, "It is for India to do, and hopefully they will do the right thing."
When quizzed about the ongoing violence in Delhi due to the CAA, he said that it was India's internal matter. "It is really up to India."
Modi has been accused of taking steps to move India away from secularism and toward a Hindu state, be it the abrogation of the autonomous status and statehood of Jammu and Kashmir or the passage of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), which many claim will be used to withhold citizenship from Muslims.
Trump, however, did not seem concerned with these issues and said that Modi was a firm believer in granting citizens "religious freedom".
"We discussed about Muslims and Christians and we talked about religious liberty. Modi told me that they are working very closely with the Muslim community," Trump said when asked about his views on Modi's policies that critics allege are discriminatory to Muslims. He also praised India for working "very hard" on religious freedom.
On Kashmir and Pakistan
As opposed to his previous comments, Trump was more guarded in his response about Pakistan and its role in perpetrating terrorism as the Islamic nation remains key for Trump to hammer out a peace deal in Afghanistan and save face on the issue back home.
Trump had in the past minced no words in criticising Pakistan and had even cut down financial assistance to the country on multiple occasions for failing to curb terrorism. However, with the Afghan peace deal hanging in balance and given Pakistan's role in bringing the terrorist group Taliban to the table, Trump was not going to upset a key ally in an election year. Bringing back US troops from strife-torn Afghanistan after a two-decade-long battle was one of the key promises Trump made back home.
Describing the Kashmir issue as a "big problem" between India and Pakistan, he said it is "a thorn in a lot of people's sides" and reiterated his offer to mediate between the two countries to ease the tension. "If anything I can do to mediate, I will do," he said, adding that Pakistan figured in his talks with Modi.
He asserted that he has "great relationship" with both Modi and Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. "We talked a lot about Pakistan. I have a very good relationship with Pakistan PM (Imran) Khan. India is a brave nation, and I said I will help because my relationship with both the leaders is good. Anything I can do to mediate, I will do. There are two sides to every story, and they are working on it. PM Modi is a very religious and calm man, but he is a very strong person. He is very tough. He has got that foremost in his mind, terrorism and he will take care of it," Trump said.
On US-India Trade deal
Trump's India visit was full of pomp and show and grandeur but he wrapped up the glitzy affair without any prominent outcomes. India was looking forward to a comprehensive trade deal that could help de-escalate a trade war of sorts that flared up last year when Trump single-handedly decided to end India's 'unfair' trade practices and slapped heavy tariffs on Indian exports to his country. He wanted lower tariffs on US companies in return. India retaliated by slapping more tariffs on some US goods and the Trump administration escalated the pressure on India last year by denying some of its products preferential duty-free entry to the American market. The US is annoyed by a deficit in the trade of goods with India that last year reached $23.3 billion.
"We know the problems (about the trade deal). Previous administration had no clue. We can do that. Everybody said we won't be able to do a deal with China, but we did a deal with China. We are working it out," Trump said.
The US president, however, neither revealed details as to where the negotiations were stuck nor indicated areas where the two nations were open to making concessions. The likely time frame for such a deal also remains unclear.
Trump instead used the opportunity to address several issues that perplex him back home.
Returning to domestic squabbles, Trump lashed out at US Supreme Court justices and his Democratic rivals. Addressing Indian business leaders in New Delhi, Trump warned of economic calamity if he loses his reelection race in November and repeated his call for two liberal-leaning Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from cases involving him or his administration.
Trump also said he had not been briefed on intelligence suggesting Russia is meddling in the 2020 election, either to bolster him or Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
Trump had joked at the beginning of the news conference that he would be “very, very conservative” in his answers to avoid distracting from his “fantastic two days" in India.
But then he quickly launched attacks, including criticising Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, the latter for a blistering dissent that was critical of the Trump administration’s rush to claim emergencies when asking the Supreme Court to review cases.
"I just don't know how they can not recuse themselves for anything Trump or Trump-related," he said.
At the meeting with Indian business leaders, Trump abandoned the tradition of avoiding domestic political squabbles while travelling abroad and criticised the Democratic candidates who are competing for the right to challenge his reelection bid in November, warning of economic turmoil if one of them defeats him.
Trump said that he believes the US economy is being held back by the upcoming US election and claimed that “if the wrong person gets elected, everything will come to a halt" and unemployment will soar. "If I lose my job, everybody will lose their jobs," Trump said.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Feb 25, 2020 20:00:52 IST