Stage set for Trump and Modi to dine, talk


WASHINGTON : The stage is set for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US for his first meeting with President Donald Trump, including a dining table somewhere inside the White House with more than a glass of warm water for the Indian leader, who was fasting at the time of his first dinner there.

Modi and Trump will be joined by their teams at the dinner — 12 a side, according to sources — and they can look forward to a menu in keeping with the president’s free-wheeling eating habits; he is not as careful about his food as his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Indian officials were still somewhat nervous about the dinner, saying it was on the schedule but “not on paper, not in writing”. They were probably being cautious as all other governments are when dealing with a White House known for its unpredictability. It’s not over till it’s really done and over.

The dinner will come after almost half a day of meetings on June 26, starting with a one-onone between the two leaders. This will be their first meeting, though they have spoken at least three times on phone, starting with the morning after Trump’s election victory in 2016.

These one-on-ones (with aides for translation, if needed) are intended to allow leaders to get to know each other, and can go on longer than scheduled. Trump’s first meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping in Florida in April was to last 15 minutes but it went on for three hours.

Modi and Trump are also expected to address reporters but the format remained unclear. There are two options essentially. One, a joint appearance at which they just make brief remarks, as has been the standard practice for most of Modi’s White House visits. And, two, a joint news briefing where they take questions.

The leaders’ one-on-one will be followed by a delegation-level meeting at which the two sides, represented by top officials with influence on the relationship, will raise issues of importance to them, and check their respective talking-point boxes on other lesser matters.

Top issue for both sides is likely to be counter-terrorism, followed by H-1B visa system for India and trade for the United States. The ongoing US review of its policy on Afghanistan is expected to figure prominently as well and India will be keen to know if the Americans are staying there, and for how long.

Pakistan will figure most certainly, as in all talks before, this time more significantly in the context of a review of relations with special focus on aid, as ordered by the President . “India will align its concerns with those of the US to argue for tougher measures against Pakistan,” said an analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Prime Minister is also scheduled to interact with business leaders, in continuation with past practices, and will be meeting 15 of them including, according to speculation, Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi and MasterCard chief Ajay Banga, both Indian Americans. BREXIT

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