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Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail that India and the US would be “best friends” if he were elected, but the first months of his presidency have seen tension between the countries on multiple issues.

india Updated: Jul 08, 2017 18:45 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington, DC
Narendra Modi will meet Donald Trump for the first time during his visit to the United States.
Narendra Modi will meet Donald Trump for the first time during his visit to the United States.(Agencies)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi engaged in a warm but slightly awkward exchange on Twitter with President Donald Trump as he landed in the United States on Saturday evening. The interaction exemplified how ties between India and the United States are strong but starting to fray.

The official President of the United States Twitter handle declared that Modi was a “true friend” hours before the arrival of the Prime Minister for a two-day visit: “Look forward to welcoming India’s PM Modi to @WhiteHouse on Monday. Important strategic issues to discuss with a true friend!”

No such message was sent from Trump’s personal account. According to The Washington Post, the official account is controlled by aides, not the president himself.

In his appreciative response, Modi expressed an awareness of the difference. “Thank you @POTUS for the warm personal welcome,” he wrote. “ Greatly look forward to my meeting and discussions with you @realDonaldTrump.”

Modi arrived at the Andrews Air Force Base late Saturday evening after a short stay in Portugal. He was received by the Indian ambassador to the United States, Navtej Sarna, and Sarna’s wife, Aveena Sarna. Modi proceeded to his hotel, which is less than a kilometre from the White House in downtown DC.

Before leaving India, Modi issued an optimistic statement about the visit: “I look forward to this opportunity to have an in depth exchange of views on further consolidating the robust and wide ranging partnership between India and the United States.”

Trump and Modi have not met, but they have spoken twice since the American president’s inauguration in January. Their first conversation came the morning after Trump’s upset electoral victory in November 2016.

In October, as the Republican nominee, Trump promised Indian-American supporters at a rally in New Jersey that relations between the two countries would reach new heights.“Under a Trump administration, we are going to become even better friends,” he said. “In fact, I’ll take the word ’even’ out because we are going to be best friends. There won’t be any relationship more important to us.”

Since Trump took office, however, there has been tension between the two countries. Indian-Americans have suffered a spate of racially-charged attacks. Trump has issued an executive order calling for a review of the H-1B visas programme, which disproportionately benefits Indians: by last August, Indians had received 72% of all the H-1B visas available in 2016. And during the president’s speech pulling the US out of the Paris climate deal, he repeatedly singled out India for having received “unfair” positive treatment.

Dismissing reports that India is not a top priority of the Trump administration, a senior official told reporters Friday that Modi’s visit would be “special” and “memorable”. He is the first foreign dignitary Trump has invited to dinner at the White House.

The other world leaders Trump has hosted at dinner have been Japan’s Shinzo Abe and China’s Xi Jinping. Both visited the president’s plush Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. It was during a lavish dinner there — with the “most beautiful chocolate cake” in front — that Trump had told Xi about the cruise missiles he had launched against a Syrian airfield moments ago.

Modi’s first activity on Sunday morning is a meeting with some of America’s leading CEOs. He has held such meetings on all of his bilateral visits to the US. The next event will be a reception with prominent Indian-Americans, another of his routines in America.

The Prime Minister will not meet Trump until Monday. They will begin with a private conversation in the afternoon, followed by a larger meeting attended by aides, some remarks to the press, a cocktail reception, and then dinner.

Modi leaves for the Netherlands, the third and final leg of the tour, that night.