Washington: The meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump in June laid a strong foundation for moving India-U.S. relationship forward, a senior U.S. official has said, indicating that the defence and counter-terrorism are likely to be key areas of cooperation. Modi's visit to the White House "dispelled doubts" about moving the relationship forward among Indian officials, the Trump administration official said.
"I think the main issues that were discussed and will be followed up include security in the Indo-Pacific region and working closely with India to maintain free and open seaways, freedom of commerce, adherence to international law and sovereignty issues," the official said on condition of anonymity, giving a brief review of the India-U.S. relationship in the first eight months of the Trump administration.
This very much came across in the joint statement with the references to the common principles for the Indian Ocean region, the official said, adding that the two countries will be working to follow up those commitments.
Defence cooperation was a big part of the visit, said the official, mentioning the estimated $2 billion deal for sale of guardian drones to India by the U.S. This is "the first time" that the US has decided to provide such technology to a non-NATO ally.
"This was a big step in the administration to agree to do that. Now there are follow up discussions in terms of the conditions of the sale and (other) specifics. As you know, these kinds of defence deals take time to completely move through the bureaucracy and come to the final agreements. That's ongoing," the official said.
The official said that there was also a great meeting of the minds between Prime Minister Modi and President Trump on the terrorism issue. This also came through in the joint statement, in terms of stepping up our cooperation with India when it comes to consulting on terrorist designations, sharing information, intelligence on terrorist groups, and working together more closely in Afghanistan, the official added.
"Of course, the economic and trade issues, those were a little bit more contentious. We have a lot of work to do to address each market access issues that are there. Each side has particular concerns about market access," the official said, adding that the Trump administration will be following these up through the trade policy forum meeting that's coming up here shortly.
"I think it was a great visit. There's still some positive reverberations from that visit. Not only did you see a personal rapport established between the president and prime minister, that frankly, they were able to build on even more in the president's phone call to the prime minister on the eve of Indian Independence Day. But, also, a strong foundation for moving the overall relationship forward," the official said.
"All of the U.S. government agencies, practically all, are invested in this relationship with India. We are moving forward on all cylinders, in terms of the collaboration and cooperation. We could talk about Homeland Security and the movement there, but there are so many facets of the relationship, and I think this visit did what was necessary to provide that foundation, which now we can build on," the official asserted in response to a question.
In the defence arena, the official said, naval cooperation is a key priority area. "Our Navy-to-Navy cooperation probably is the strongest of all the service to service cooperation between our governments. In terms of equipment sales, I think, F-18 is in the negotiating process. This would be for the Navy. Hopefully, that will move forward. It is something that the Indian Navy is looking for U.S. eager to help fulfill that requirement of the Indian Navy. We're very much focused on that particular deal," the official said.
At the same time, the official said, there is increasing exercises and cooperation, whether it be on humanitarian disaster relief operations, and anti-piracy.
"Then also, the U.S. had demonstrated its interest in joint patrols. These don't necessarily have to be joint patrols in faraway places. They can be joint patrols in the Indian Ocean region. They can be focused on issues such as proliferation interdiction, non-proliferation activities, and other issues. But, this is something that the U.S. is very interested in and is talking with India about," said the official.
"Then there's the sort of diplomatic efforts looking at extending the cooperation with other nations in the region, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and others. That's very important, and of course, there's an important conference happening in Sri Lanka hosted by the India Foundation on the Indian Ocean region. There will be high level U.S. participation in that.
All of these efforts are extremely important in terms of our naval engagement," the official said.
On Saturday, the State Department announced that Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs and Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Alice Wells will travel to Dhaka, Islamabad, and Colombo from August 28 to September 2.
She will meet with government officials, business leaders, and civil society representatives to discuss our cooperation in the region, a media statement said.