US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi late on Monday discussed over phone the prospects for increasing cooperation in Afghanistan, the India-US strategic partnership, trade deficit, cooperation in defence and security issues, according to statements from the two countries.
The call placed by Modi was one of the several that Trump received or made on the occasion of the start of the New Year, according to a statement from the White House.
The call to Trump follows one between Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin also on Monday and comes after the seeming belittling by the US President of India’s reconstruction efforts in war-torn Afghanistan. It also follows reports that the Trump administration has ordered the US military to start withdrawing roughly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan in what is being seen as “an abrupt shift” in the 17-year-old war there.
The conversations with Putin and Trump come ahead of the general elections in India, which are to take place in April-May. “These are two (US and Russia) major relationships” with key partners, said a person familiar with the development. Modi had met Putin in May in Sochi and Trump in December in a trilateral meeting with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Argentina, said the person mentioned above. “The calls are aimed at ensuring that there is no let-up in the momentum of ties that have been developed” as India goes in for general elections, the person said.
The two leaders “expressed satisfaction at the progress in India-US strategic partnership in 2018. They appreciated developments such as the launch of the new 2+2 dialogue mechanism and the first-ever trilateral summit of India, the US and Japan”, the Indian foreign ministry said.
“The two leaders took positive note of growing bilateral cooperation in defence, counter-terrorism and energy and coordination on regional and global issues. They agreed to continue to work together for strengthening India-US bilateral relations in 2019,” it said.
The two leaders “exchanged perspectives on how to reduce the US trade deficit with India, expand security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, and increase cooperation in Afghanistan,” according to a White House statement.
Trump has been seeking a more active role for India in Afghanistan which would go beyond reconstruction and include deployment of troops to fight the Taliban. In recent remarks, seen as scornful of India’s efforts at helping Afghanistan rebuild infrastructure, Trump had said that a library reportedly built in Afghanistan by India was not being used by anyone