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Trump steers clear of row over CAA, says Modi wants people to have religious freedom

By PTI Updated: Feb 25, 2020 11:12 pm

New Delhi, Feb. 25 (PTI): After talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday stressed that the Indian leader wants people to have religious freedom and also steered clear of the row over the contentious CAA even as he said an over USD 3 billion defence deal was finalised for the supply of advanced American military helicopters to India.

Trump also repeated his mediation offer to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan, noting Kashmir is a “big problem” and has been “thorn in a lot of people’s sides” for a long time. He said there are “two sides to every story”, comments that came days ahead of the plans to sign a peace deal between the US and Taliban on February 29 for which Pakistan has been invited.

“If anything I can do to mediate, I will do,” Trump said, adding Pakistan figured in his talks with Modi.

“I have a good equation with Pakistan PM Imran Khan. They are working to control cross-border terrorism,” Trump said after India flagged its concerns over terrorism emanating from across the border.

Trump went on to say that Modi is a very religious and calm man, but he is a very strong person. “He is very tough. He has got that foremost in his mind, terrorism and he will take care of it.”

The President was effusive in his praise of Modi on multiple occasions, calling him a “terrific leader” and a “nice man who is doing a fantastic job”.

At their meeting at the stately Hyderabad House hours after the President was accorded a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the two leaders said there has been “tremendous progress” in negotiations between India and the US for a “big and comprehensive” trade deal which will be of great importance to both the countries.

But Trump’s press conference at the ITC Maurya hotel where he stayed overnight came as a surprise and generated a lot of excitement in the media fraternity amid speculation he may touch upon controversial issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act(CAA) against the backdrop of the violence in Delhi over the new law that has left 10 dead.

“I’m gonna be not at all controversial…I don’t want to blow the two days plus two days of travel on one answer, one little answer…So I will be very conservative in my answers if you don’t mind,” Trump said at the start of the 45-minute packed news conference.

In reply to a question, Trump said issues involving the CAA are up to India and asserted that Prime Minister Modi wants people to have religious freedom.

“We did talk about religious freedom. Prime Minister Modi wants people to have religious freedom in India…If you look back India has worked hard for religious freedom,” Trump said.

On CAA, he said, “I don’t want to say anything on CAA. It is up to India. I hope it will take the right decision for its people.”

Asked if he discussed the incidents of violence taking place during his visit, he said he didn’t discuss individual attacks and “that is up to India” to deal with it.

He also talked with Modi about his country’s peace deal with the Taliban and said India will like to see it happen.

At a news conference, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said the new citizenship law did not come up during Modi-Trump talks, noting the two leaders talked about religious harmony in a “positive way”.

“The issue of CAA did not come up, but with regard to what you mentioned, the term religious freedom, there was appreciation from both sides that pluralism and diversity are a common binding factor of both the countries,” he added.

He said India and the US held talks in five major categories–security, defence, energy, technology and people-to-people contact, with Trump assuring India highest consideration for collaboration in the defence sector.

Trump said India and the US have expanded their defence cooperation with agreements for New Delhi to purchase more than USD 3 billion of advanced American military equipment, including Apache and MH-60 Romeo helicopters — the finest in the world.

After extensive talks with Modi during which strategic issues, including trade ties, counter-terror and energy cooperation were discussed, Trump at his joint press meet said they affirmed the two countries’ commitment to protecting their citizens from radical Islamic terrorism.

“In this effort, the US is also working productively with Pakistan to confront terrorists who operate on its soil,” Trump said.

The US president said, “earlier, today we expanded our defence cooperation with agreements for India to purchase more than USD 3 billion of advanced American military equipment, including Apache and MH-60 Romeo helicopters — the finest in the world. These deals will enhance our joint defence capabilities as our militaries continue to train and operate side by side.”

“Another major focus of my discussions with Prime Minister Modi was forging bilateral economic relationships that is fair and reciprocal.”

Modi said as far as bilateral trade is concerned, there have been positive talks between the commerce ministers of the two countries.

“President Trump and I have agreed that our teams will give legal shape to the understanding that our commerce ministers have reached. We have also agreed to start negotiations for a big trade deal. We hope that it will yield good results in mutual interest,” the prime minister said.

Describing the Indo-US relations as “one of the most important partnerships of the 21st century”, the prime minister said, “increasing defence and security cooperation between two countries is a very key aspect of the strategic partnership between India and the US. We also agreed on a new mechanism to contain drug trafficking.”

Modi also noted that he had met Trump five times in the last eight months.

After the ceremonial reception on the second and final day of his whirlwind visit, Trump and his wife Melania paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat and planted a sapling at the memorial of the Father of the Nation.

“The American people stand strongly with a sovereign and wonderful India -The vision of the great Mahatma — This is a tremendous honour!” Trump wrote in the visitor’s book at Rajghat.

Trump also attended a banquet hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

It is up to India, Donald Trump on Delhi violence

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said religious freedom in India figured in his talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but sidestepped the issue of contentious citizenship law over which the capital has witnessed fresh violence.

When asked at a press conference about the violence in Delhi over the new law, which critics claim discriminates against the Muslim community, President Trump said it was “up to India” to deal with it.

“As far as individual attacks are concerned, I have heard about them. I didn’t discuss that with him. It is up to India,” the US president said hours after he held restricted and delegation-level talks with Modi.

Fresh bouts of violence broke out in northeast Delhi since Sunday over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in which 10 people were killed and over 150 injured.

“We did talk about religious freedom and I would say that the Prime Minister was incredible on what he said. He wants people to have religious freedom, and very strongly said that in India they have worked very hard to have great and open religious freedom,” the US president said.

“If you look back and look at what is going on relative to other places, especially, they (India) have really worked hard on religious freedom,” Trump said at the press conference.

On his views on the CAA, Trump said: “I don’t want to discuss that, I want to leave that to India. I hope they will do the right thing for the people of India.”

Asked specifically about allegations that Muslims are being subjected to discrimination and there have been rising cases of hate crime in India, Trump said: “We did discuss that and specifically Muslims. We also discussed Christians.”

“I had a very powerful answer from the prime minister. We talked about religious liberty for a long period of time in front of a lot of people. I had a very very powerful answer I think,” he said.

Trump said Modi told him that “they are working closely with the Muslim community”.

India has witnessed massive protests over the new citizenship law and National Population Register with opposition parties and several rights groups alleging that the measures are aimed at marginalising the Muslim community.

The national capital witnessed massive violence in the midst of Trump’s high-profile visit. The government on Monday said the violence was triggered to tarnish India’s image.

In a media statement after his talks with PM Modi earlier, Trump said both the countries have always been united by shared traditions of democracy and constitutions that protect freedom, individual rights, and the rule of law.

“As we deepen our partnership with India, we remember that our two countries have always been united by shared traditions of democracy and constitutions that protect freedom, individual rights, and the rule of law,” he said.

By PTI Updated: Feb 25, 2020 11:12:13 pm