Why the U.S.-India Relationship Is Headed for Big Things

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs U.S. President Donald Trump as he departures the White House after a visit, in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The Indian prime minister’s visit telegraphed a familiar message: The U.S.-India relationship is going places, and fast.

And yet Modi’s visit was as much about policy continuity as it was about the enduring appeal of personal relationships. The joint statement released after the Trump-Modi meeting reiterated the same themes that have animated U.S.-India relations for a number of years—shared values (such as democracy), shared interests (such as combating terrorism and promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific region) and, most strikingly, opportunities for economic cooperation. Even clean energy received a (brief) mention.

An implicit implication from the joint statement is that U.S.-India ties are invested with enough goodwill to overcome any new irritants that may have crept into the relationship in recent months.

Indeed, opportunities abound for the United States and India to keep working together, including in ways that uphold the “America First” principle and reflect Trump’s transactional approach to foreign relationships. These include counterterrorism, to help preempt threats to the U.S. homeland and to U.S. interests abroad, as well as arms deals, which are bound to intensify given Washington’s decision, in the waning days of the Obama administration, to grant India the status of major defense partner. For a security-focused, deal-oriented leader like Trump, arms sales should be a very easy sell. Cybersecurity—which both Trump and Modi have highlighted as domestic priorities—is another promising space for greater collaboration.

Modi’s visits to the United States are typically well-received affairs, and this one was no exception, with the premier wowing U.S. business leaders and Trump, who praised Modi for his country’s economic performance. In that regard, this trip—like those before it—highlighted how far Modi has come from his days as a pariah. Until 2014, when Modi became prime minister, the United States effectively banned him from visiting the country because of allegations that he failed to prevent deadly anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, the state where he was chief minister, in 2002. There were, as always, a smattering of anti-Modi protests around Washington, with their causes ranging from Kashmir to independence for Indian Sikhs. But these were quite limited in number and scope.

So, as always, Modi came, saw and conquered. But what was different this time around was that he also reassured. In an era of tumult and unpredictability, Modi’s visit served as a reminder that the U.S.-India relationship—warts and all—still remains on relatively solid ground.

Michael Kugelman is deputy director for the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @michaelkugelman.

Image: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs U.S. President Donald Trump as he departures the White House after a visit, in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria​

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