Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to meet US president Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France on Monday. The duo last met in Osaka during the G20 Summit held in June, but, there's been a lot of water under the proverbial bridge since then.
India isn't a member of the G7 or Group of Seven of the world's most advanced economies — as per International Monetary Fund data — but Modi is in Biarritz on the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron. The prime minister is expected to speak during sessions on the environment, climate, oceans, and digital transformation, besides also holding bilaterals with leaders of other countries participating in the two-day summit.
Among these is the American president with whom at least two prickly issues require further conversation, if not clarification.
The first of these is the Kashmir issue and more pertinently, Trump's constant allusion to his desire to play the role of mediator between India and Pakistan in an effort to resolve the longstanding disagreement between the two nuclear neighbours. Having made public statements — largely aimed at his own domestic audiences — about his desire to mediate on the Kashmir issue in the past, it was during Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan's US visit that Trump actually made a public remark of this nature in the company of an Indian or Pakistani leader.
The president told Khan and the world media that Modi had apparently asked him (during their meeting in Osaka) to mediate in the matter. Denials by India's Ministry of External Affairs and examinations of transcripts of meetings in Osaka soon followed and the US Department of State had to walk-back POTUS' remarks. Most recently, Trump held conversations with Khan and Modi over the phone urging restraint, particularly after the Pakistan prime minister's (and indeed, his Cabinet's) increasingly bellicose rhetoric following India's decision earlier this month to abrogate Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.
Modi will seek to clearly, without any room for equivocation or misinterpretation, convey to Trump that Kashmir is an internal matter for India and Pakistan's claims to the northern state form a bilateral matter between the two subcontinent nations.
The second elephant in the room is the rise in tensions around trade between India and the US, or more precisely, tariffs. Embroiled in a trade war with China, the US has also found time to train its guns on India and the tariffs it imposes on US goods. Trump has not minced his words when criticising India for levying "tremendously high" duties on US products, and has described the country as a "tariff king".
Senator Lindsay Graham, ahead of the Modi-Trump meeting, told US channel CBS, "When you look at the world tariff regime; 67 percent of all the tariffs in the world disadvantage America. There's a higher tariff on American products in the country in which we do business. India is the worst," The Senator went a step further, adding, "So, like in India... they have a 100 percent tariff on a lot of our products. Either we increase tariffs on Indian products, or we all go to zero. The goal is to go to zero."
Modi will want to clear the air around the issue of tariffs and seek to shrink the trust deficit between the two countries on this issue, particularly given the way India-US relations have been progressing in other areas over the past decade and more.
The third, albeit less immediate, matter — the rhino in the room, if you will — that may come up for discussion is India's role in Afghanistan. Trump has gone back and forth in the past few weeks about the role the US is to play in the war-torn country, switching as he has between calling for a complete pullout of armed forces in the near future to claiming that the US will always have a presence there.
What has been somewhat consistent is his demand for India to 'play a bigger role' in Afghanistan, with Trump even speaking somewhat derisively of an Indian-built library there. New Delhi has been categorical that it will not put boots on the ground in the country, but will — and continues to — aid and assist Kabul in all sorts of other ways. Modi will seek to drive this point home when he meets the president later today.
While no concrete outcomes can be expected from a sidelines meeting, India will seek to lay a platform for the next bilateral meeting between Trump and Modi, and manage expectations in the interim with these conversations.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Aug 26, 2019 10:30:00 IST