AHMEDABAD: As India poured on the pageantry with a colourful welcome for the US president on Monday that kicked off a whirlwind 36-hour visit, Donald Trump said his administration is hopeful for “reduced tensions and greater stability” between Pakistan and India.
“Our relationship with Pakistan is a very good one. Thanks to these efforts, we are beginning to see signs of big progress with Pakistan,” Trump said while addressing a mammoth crowd of more than 100,000 people at the opening of the world’s largest cricket stadium in the western state of Gujarat, shortly after his arrival to the country on Monday.
“We are hopeful for reduced tensions, greater stability and the future of harmony for all of the nations of South Asia,” he said, adding that the US is working with Pakistan in a very positive way in fight against terrorism.
Trump also vowed to boost trade ties between the US and India, saying that the US was prepared to supply India with defence equipment ranging from drones to helicopters and missile systems. “We look forward to providing the best and most feared military equipment to India,” he said.
The US president said he looked forward to expanding space cooperation between the two nations, adding that both sides were at the early stages of reaching an “incredible” trade agreement.
Trump said the two countries will sign deals on Tuesday (today) to sell military helicopters worth $3 billion and that the United States must become the premier defence partner of India, which relied on Russian equipment during the Cold War.
The US president along with his wife Melania is on a two-day trip aimed at reinvigorating ties between the world’s biggest democracies that have been strained by trade rows.
Indians wore cardboard Trump masks and “Namaste Trump” hats to welcome the US president at the huge new Motera stadium in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own political homeland, the western city of Ahmedabad.
US officials have described Trump’s visit as a way to counter China’s rise as a superpower. “You have done a great honour to our country. We will remember you forever, from this day onwards India will always hold a special place in our hearts,” Trump said to thunderous applause.
India is one of the few big countries in the world where Trump’s personal approval rating is above 50%.
In his speech, Trump extolled India’s rise as a stable and prosperous democracy as one of the achievements of the century.
“You have done it as a tolerant country. And you have done it as a great, free country,” he said. Trump planned to raise the issue of religious freedoms in India with Modi, an administration official said last week.
VERY BIG DEALS
In Ahmedabad, Modi embraced Trump as he stepped off Air Force One, along with his wife, Melania. Folk dancers carrying colourful umbrellas danced alongside the red carpet as drummers, trumpeters and other musicians performed at the airport to welcome Trump and the US delegation. Crowds lined the route along his cavalcade, many taking pictures on their phones.
The two sides did not manage to hammer out a trade deal ahead of the visit, with differences remaining over agriculture, medical devices, digital trade and proposed new tariffs.
Trump said he was going to discuss economic ties with Modi, describing him as a tough negotiator. “We will be making very, very major, among the biggest ever made, trade deals. We are in the early stages of discussion for an incredible trade agreement to reduce barriers of investment between the United States and India,” he said. “And I am optimistic that working together, the prime minister and I can reach a fantastic deal that’s good and even great for both of our countries – except that he is a very tough negotiator.”
Modi is pulling out the stops for the president although prospects for even a limited trade deal during the visit are seen as slim. “There is so much that we share, shared values and ideals … shared opportunities and challenges, shared hopes and aspirations,” said Modi at the rally.
Trump, who faces his own re-election campaign this year, has frequently praised Modi for his crowd-pulling power.
Last year, Trump held a “Howdy Modi” rally with Modi in Houston, drawing 50,000 people, mainly Indian Americans. At the time, Trump likened Modi to Elvis Presley as a draw for crowds. Later, Trump and his entourage which includes daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner flew to Agra to see the Taj Mahal monument at sunset.
Children lined the route cheering and waving flags as his convoy drove past. Trump and Melania posed for pictures at the Taj, the 17th century monument to love. “It’s incredible,” he told reporters.