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What To Expect With President Trump's First Meeting With Indian Prime Minister Modi


We'll start this hour by hearing about President Trump's meeting tomorrow with India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, who's already arrived in the U.S. It'll be the first face-to-face meeting between the two and Modi's first opportunity to hear directly from the president about Trump's vision for the relationship between the U.S. and the world's second most populous country. NPR's Julie McCarthy joins us now from New Delhi to tell us more about what we can expect from the meeting. Hi, Julie.


MARTIN: So what's the significance of this meeting? And what are the expectations on each side?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think defense is going to dominate. A senior White House official says security cooperation will form a big part of this bilateral meeting but wouldn't confirm any sort of arms deal. There was a lot of uncertainty heading into this but it may be lifting. In previous visits, President Obama treated India much on the same terms as Washington's closest allies. And it sounds at least like the new administration will be rolling out the hospitality. In a tweet welcoming Prime Minister Modi, President Trump called Modi a true friend. But, now, there's also new significant differences.

MARTIN: Well, like what?

MCCARTHY: Well, there's this whole H-1B visa flap that has unsettled India's IT giants. They relied on this visa to get their skilled workers into the U.S., but Trump wants to reform who's even eligible to come to the United States, who can have jobs there, who can work there. This is all in line with his protecting American jobs. It's a small issue in some ways, but it illuminates a much bigger tension.

This is an India-first-versus-America-first affair. And how they resolve that contradiction is a big question. Both men came to office as nationalists. And Modi's campaign, make in India, taps these foreign companies to create jobs in India. And, of course, Trump's vision of America first is supposed to protect American jobs. So how do they - how do they square the circle?

MARTIN: Interesting. So, well, let's talk about China for a minute, that there have been concerns in the U.S. about China's behavior in the South China Sea. Where does India fit into all this?

MCCARTHY: Well, India's also wary about Chinese aggression there - it's next door. And at the same time, India doesn't want to be seen as a hedge against China, and it's often cast that way. In fact, Modi wants to hear how India fits into President Trump's Asian Pacific policy - much bigger and moreover, even bigger still, how the two sides can jointly work on global issues like terrorism. Enter Pakistan, India's rival. India accuses Pakistan of exporting terrorism, something you can be sure Mr. Modi will say to President Trump. He'll also want to hear about President Trump's strategy in the Middle East. India has a big stake there.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk more about that if you would. What is India's stake in the Middle East? And what are some of the potential differences between the two countries on that?

MCCARTHY: Right. Well, first of all, millions of Indian citizens work in the Middle East. India gets its energy supply from there, and they're concerned about it blowing up. India watched closely when President Trump lauded Saudi Arabia on his recent visit there and declared Iran a terror-sponsoring state. India doesn't see Iran that way. In fact, it has good relations with Tehran, and it wants no conflict spilling over into India. And all these differences - including climate change, where India and the U.S. now disagree - are significant. It's a tall order to be resolved during a one-on-one-meeting and a working dinner.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I was intrigued by the fact that these men actually have something in common - right? - that as you just said, they're both nationalists. They both kind of like the big, splashy event. Is there any area in which you think the two of them might agree enough to produce something of substance in this visit?

MCCARTHY: These are large people who have the capacity to turn on the charm. Mr. Modi, however, is accommodating Mr. Trump, who doesn't like to be upstaged. There's going to be nothing like the splashy Modi Madison Square Garden gala of a couple of years ago. There may be a lot of agreeing to disagree, but remember, these men are also big personalities who are capable of springing surprises.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy reporting from New Delhi. Thanks, Julie.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.