Trump says US keen to boost defense sales to India | News | DW | 24.02.2020
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Trump says US keen to boost defense sales to India

The US leader sang the praises of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally attended by more than 100,000 in India. He arrived amid continued protests in the capital, and rose eyebrows trying to say a cricketer's name.

Watch video 01:59

Trump starts India visit with massive rally in Ahmedabad

President Donald Trump vowed to boost trade ties between the US and India on Monday as he addressed a crowd of more than 100,000 at a stadium in the western state of Gujarat, shortly after arriving on his first state visit to the country.

Trump said the US was looking forward to providing the "best and most feared military equipment" to India. He said the country was prepared to supply India with defense equipment such as helicopters, drones and missile systems.

'Namaste Trump'

The US president opened his speech by declaring that he traveled 8,000 miles (12,900 kilometers) to Ahmedabad to deliver the message that, "America loves India, America respects India and America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people.”

He went on to say that he looked forward to expanding cooperation on space exploration between the two nations, and said both sides were at the early stages of an "incredible" trade deal.

Trump made these proclamations during the "Namaste Trump" rally at the world's largest cricket stadium, which is located in the home state of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The event featured musicians on camels and a musical medley of Bollywood hits and Elton John songs from Trump's campaign rally playlist.

Trump also got a large cheer from the crowd on dropping the names of two of India's finest cricketers, retired legend Sachin Tendulkar and current national team captain Virat Kohli, though he was also mocked for questionable pronunciation of both names — missing the mark by a particularly wide margin in Tendulkar's case. 

The rally was the highlight of day 1 of Trump's two-day trip, which also included a planned tour of the Taj Mahal and a visit to a former home of Mohandas Gandhi, the pacifist leader also known as Mahatma Gandhi.

Watch video 00:46

Modi: 'India and US relations are no longer just another partnership'

Read more: Donald Trump visits India amid burgeoning defense ties, trade tensions

Deaths in Delhi over citizenship law

Ahead of Trump's arrival in New Delhi, the city experienced unrest as a policeman and three civilians were killed. The violence broke out due to clashes between people protesting against India's Citizenship Amendment Act, and those supporting it. This law, deemed by critics as anti-Muslim, has led to country-wide protests since early December.

Protesters set vehicles on fire during a protest over controversial new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, Feb. 24, 2020. (picture-alliance/Xinhua News Agency/Str)

Despite various efforts to clean up ahead of Trump's arrival, violence broke out in the capital during his visit

Vehicles, houses and shops were set on fire by mobs in northeastern parts of the nation's capital. The police fired tear gas in an attempt to defuse the situation. Dozens more were injured as the afternoon unrest persisted well into the evening.

Defense deals ahead

Trump said the two countries on Tuesday would sign around $3 billion (€2.77 billion) worth of defense deals. This includes, according to reports, 24 anti-submarine navy helicopters, and the two will discuss a $1.9 billion missile defense shield for the capital.

In 2016 the US designated India as a "Major Defense Partner," and last year the two countries signed a deal to ease the transfer of advanced weaponry and the sharing of encrypted military communications.

DW correspondent Nimisha Jaiswal said India is "upset with the US for removing its preferential trade status last year, and US calls India the king of tariffs — however there is cooperation expected on the defense front."

The visit is mutually beneficial for the two leaders, according to DW correspondent Sonia Phalnikar. "For President Trump this visit is important in an election year, because the diaspora from the western state of Gujarat tends to be a wealthy influential community in the US, which has traditionally supported Trump — many of them made large donations to presidential election campaign — so this is also about galvanizing support amongst them," Phalnikar said. 

Read more: Indian officials build wall in Ahmedabad to hide slums from view when Trump visits

This visit is also important in terms of optics for Prime Minister Modi, Phalnikar continued, "who has been facing large scale protests at home but also international criticism abroad for a controversial citizenship law which some say undermine India's secular traditions."

Converging interests

New Delhi expects Trump's visit to facilitate greater synergies between India and the US when dealing with security issues, terrorism and trade, said Smruti Pattanaik, a foreign policy research fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi, to DW ahead of the visit.

Read more: Is Modi-Trump Houston rally an endorsement of India's Kashmir policy?

Driven by a growing convergence in their strategic interests, relations between India and the US have been growing steadily over the past few years. In recent years, India has increased purchases of military equipment from the US and forged closer defense cooperation with Washington.

Experts describe the current state of US-India relations as being strong on the defense side and struggling on the commercial side. "I would describe US-India relations as a strong strategic partnership with trade tensions," Alyssa Ayres, former US deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia and senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, told DW ahead of Trump's arrival.

Watch video 03:05

US President Donald Trump's first official India trip

mmc/stb (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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