H-1B visas not on agenda, says US

MODI­TRUMP MEET Indian PM will be the first foreign dignitary invited to dinner after Trump became President

WASHINGTON: The White House is rolling out the “red carpet” for Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his first meeting with President Donald Trump on Monday.

The two leaders will discuss deepening of defence and security ties, launch new initiatives on counter-terrorism and thrash out trade issues.

They are also expected to discuss climate change, an uncomfortable issue after Trump took an ill-informed shot at India (and China) in remarks announcing US exit from the Paris Accord, and freedom of navigation and overflight in the Indo-Pacific region, in other words China, in the context of the South China Sea dispute.

There were no plans for discussing the issue of H-1B visas, a senior White House official previewing the visit for reporters said, adding “if it’s raised”, the US will note that while Trump has ordered a review, “there have been no immediate changes in visa applications and issuance procedures”.

Modi will be the first foreign dignitary invited to dinner at the Trump White House. “The White House is very interested in making this a special visit,” the official said, adding: “We are really seeking to roll out the carpet.”

Expect a “concrete expression” of US designating India a major defence partner — by the Barack Obama administration in 2016, the official said, refusing to confirm or deny reports the US had cleared the sale of 22 hightech unarmed drones to India.

Also high on the agenda for the two leaders would be counter-terrorism. Apart from the usual discussions about terrorist screening, information sharing, terrorists’ use of the internet and terrorist designation, the official said, “we can expect to see some new initiatives”.

Modi and Trump will also discuss trade and investment, areas of mutual interest to both leaders and disagreement. “Both sides are looking to increase market access,” the official said, adding, the US expects “stronger Intellectual Property Rights” and tariff reduction.

Also on the agenda will be China. Though the official did name it, the reference could not have been clearer in the assertion that the two sides will “re-state their commitment to common principles in a strategically vital and important region, the IndoPacific, and this includes the freedom of navigation and overflight”, an unmistakable nod to China’s increasing aggression in the disputed South China Sea.

Though it wasn’t clear if Pakistan will figure in the talks, the official said the US views its relations with India and Pakistan mutually exclusive of each other.

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