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WASHINGTON: Geo-political alignment and strategic consonance between the United States and India is proceeding apace going by the phone call initiated by President Trump to Prime Minister Modi on Thursday. The White House said in a read-out about the call that both leaders ‘pledged to continue working together to enhance security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,’ and while ‘affirming President Trump’s South Asia strategy, they reiterated their commitment to supporting Afghanistan’s security and stability.’
Two other regional issues (the situation in Maldives and Myanmar) appeared to be triggers for the telephonic talks, and the read-out suggested the two sides also agreed on common ground on both issues. “Both leaders expressed concern about the political crisis in Maldives and the importance of respect for democratic institutions and rule of law,” the White House read-out said, while revealing “They also exchanged views on Burma and ways to address the plight of the Rohingya refugees.”
Carrying on from where the Obama administration left off on the India relationship and enhancing it even further, the Trump administration appears comfortable ceding a larger regional role to New Delhi amid periodic challenges from Beijing with its support to an increasingly feeble and unstable Pakistan.
The White House readout seemed to pointedly refer to the ‘Indo-Pacific region,’ a formulation that is scoffed at by China, which sees itself as an Asia-Pacific power without an Indian role in East Asia even as it pushes into the Indian Ocean, which India sees as its sphere of influence.
In fact, the White House readout went so far as to reveal that “President Trump and Prime Minister Modi then discussed further steps to ensure denuclearization of North Korea,” drawing India into a crisis that the US has been trying to handle with surrounding powers such as China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.
US recognition of India’s primacy in the region, including in Afghanistan, is driving Pakistan and China crazy, but the read-out makes it clear there is no rethink on President Trump’s South Asia strategy that includes holding Pakistan’s feet to the fire for its support of terrorism.
The exchanges come just ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Palestine – the first by an Indian PM – as New Delhi undertakes a feat that has won it many admirers: Of managing antagonistic forces such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and Israel and Palestine.
Senior officials from US and New Delhi will themselves be engaged shortly at the ministerial level. The White House readout said Trump and Modi “agreed to strengthen security and economic cooperation as they look forward to the 2+2 ministerial dialogue between their defense and diplomatic officials in April.”