- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2017

President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a show of friendship-at-first-sight in their initial face-to-face meeting at the White House on Monday, vowing enhanced military cooperation and intelligence sharing in the global fight against terrorism.

The leaders of the world’s two largest democracies appeared to brush aside disagreements over trade, immigration and climate change to forge a strategic alliance that they said would bolster security and prosperity in both the U.S. and India.

In a joint statement delivered in the Rose Garden, Mr. Trump called the U.S.-India security partnership “incredibly important.”

“Both our countries have been struck by the evils of terrorism, and we are both determined to destroy terrorist organizations and the radical ideology that drives them,” the president said. “We will destroy radical Islamic terrorism.”

India has been a solid ally in U.S.-led anti-terror efforts, including playing a significant role in rebuilding Afghanistan. But Mr. Trump wants more from India, from battling Islamic State to confronting North Korea, and possibly greater involvement in the disputed South China Sea.

Mr. Trump noted that India would be joining the U.S. and Japan in the largest ever naval exercise in the Indian Ocean.

“The future of our partnership has never looked brighter,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Modi touted the enhanced strategic partnership, both military and economic, that he said would touch every facet of human endeavor.

“The top priority for both President Trump and myself [is] to protect our countries from global challenges such as terrorism,” he said. “Our aim is the strengthening of India and the USA, two great democracies in the world.”

Turning to Mr. Trump, he said: “I am sure that, under your leadership, our mutual strategic partnership will gain new strength, new positivity and will reach new heights.”

The two men did not announce a major deal during the Rose Garden event, although Mr. Trump said a deal on selling U.S. energy to India was in the offing.

Mr. Trump joked that they were “trying to get the price up a bit” to close the deal on natural gas.

Another deal in the works is U.S. authorization for India to buy a naval variant of the Predator drone for surveillance missions. It would be a major expansion of the military and intelligence cooperation between the two countries that began under President Barack Obama.

“On terrorism, they are on the same page,” said Dinesh Sharma, an India scholar at the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at New York’s Binghamton University. “Intelligence sharing, that’s one of the big drivers.”

The Trump administration also moved to demonstrate the desire to increase cooperation with India.

Just hours before Mr. Modi arrived at the White House, the State Department announced that the leader of an anti-India militant group in the Kashmir conflict was added to the list as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

The designation of Syed Salahuddin, also known as Mohammad Yusuf Shah, as a terrorist and the accompanying financial sanctions amounts to a major win for India in a decadeslong dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir.

Mr. Salahuddin is a senior leader of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. In September 2016 he vowed to block any peaceful resolution to the Kashmir conflict, threatened to train more Kashmiri suicide bombers and turn the Kashmir valley “into a graveyard for Indian forces.”

Under Salahuddin’s tenure as senior group leader, Hizbul Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for several attacks, including an April 2014 attack in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir that injured 17 people, according to the State Department.

The move is aimed at buttressing Indian support for the Trump administration’s broader effort to defeat radical Islamic terrorism.

“It vindicates India’s longstanding position that cross-border terrorism is behind the crisis created in Kashmir, especially since last year,” said Indian external affairs spokesman Gopal Baglay. “It underlines strongly the fact that both India and the U.S. face the threat of terrorism and are working together to counter this threat. Terrorism knows no boundaries.”

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