Trump extols close ties to India and Modi, says trade deals ‘moving along’

United States President Donald Trump lights a lamp during the White House Diwali celebrations on Tuesday in Washington. (Photo: White House/IANS)

New York (IANS): United States President Donald Trump has complimented Indian trade negotiators as “the best” and said trade talks between the two countries were moving along.

“We are trying very hard to make better trade deals with India,” he said during a White House Diwali celebration on Tuesday.

Showing the trade negotiators as highly skilled and making the talks sound difficult for the Americans, he said, “They are very good traders, they are very good negotiators.” And turning to India’s Ambassador Navtej Sarna, he said, “You would say (that), right?”

They are “the best,” and “so we are working and it is moving along,” he added.

The annual celebration was held a week later because Diwali fell on the day after the mid-term elections when the results were still coming in.

He repeatedly spoke of his close ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He said, “We love your country. And I have great, great respect, as you know, for your Prime Minister Modi.”

And he told Sarna, “So please give him my warmest regards. We will be talking to him soon.”

“The United States has deep ties to the nation of India and I am grateful for my friendship with Prime Minister Modi,” he added.

He also recalled that his daughter had met Modi during a visit to India and he was now also her friend.

He said, “India is the world’s largest democracy. And the relationship between our two countries can act as a bulwark for freedom, prosperity and peace.”

“We are very close and I think closer than ever before,” Trump said, and Sarna agreed, saying, “Absolutely, sir.”

“I think that we are looking at one of the best times we have ever had for the India-US relationship,” Sarna said.

He added that the Indian-American community was a “plus-plus for both India and for the United States.”

Last month Trump had denounced India as the “tariff king” and asserted that he had spoken to Modi, who told him that he would reduce the tariffs on imports from the US.

The total value of US-India goods and services trade last year was $126.2 billion and the US ran a $27.3 billion deficit.

Earlier this year, Trump announced tariffs of 25 percent on steel steel and 10 percent on aluminum imported from India and other countries.

New Delhi has threatened retaliatory duties on US agricultural products it imports like nuts and apples, as well as some chemicals.

In one concession to a pet peeve of Trump, India dropped the duties on Harley Davidson motorcycles from 75 percent to 50 percent.



MEANWHILE, Trump’s tweet calling Diwali a “holiday observed by Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains” started a raging twitter storm over his apparent omission of Hindus.

However, in another tweet, he said: “It was my great honour to host a celebration of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, in the Roosevelt Room at the @WhiteHouse this afternoon. Very, very special people!”

He also started his speech at the White House Diwali celebrations on Tuesday in the same way with a mention of Hinduism.

The problem apparently arose as his tweets based on his prepared speech were out of sequence and also because the first tweet was deleted and reposted.

After telling people assembled for the celebration, they were a “very impressive group; now I know you are very important, very impressive”, Trump read out from his prepared text: “I am thrilled to be here for the celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights and I am honoured to host this beautiful ceremony at the White House.”

Then veering off his text, he added, “Very, very special people.”

He interrupted the Diwali speech at that point to talk about the wild fires ravaging California that have killed more than 40 people, thanking the firefighters and offering the victims support.

He picked up his Diwali speech after that, and continued: “We are gathered today to celebrate a very special holiday observed by Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains throughout the US and around the world.”

But social media responded before his second tweet mentioning Hinduism appeared.

His first tweet was from the second part of the Diwali speech that set off the trolls.

Jeff Young shot off a tweet, “Hey, whoever wrestled Trump’s phone away to post this: Pretty sure Hindus also have some interest in Diwali.”

Tom Phillips, tweeted, “Trump’s Twitter account posted a Diwali tweet that didn’t mention Hindus, then deleted it, then… reposted it again with a different link but still no Hindus?”

And so it went on tweet after tweet, with media like Time magazine and HuffPost also piling on.