NEW DELHI: There were Trumpisms, sugar and spice, and a tiny spat as the U.S. President fielded questions from the Indian and American media here on Tuesday evening.
There was even a question on the coronavirus, probably because Trump is under attack back home for ostensibly not doing enough to check its outbreak in the United States.
But as far as India was concerned, Trump tread carefully and, indeed, set the tone for the press interaction at the outset by saying he would not be controversial “because I don’t want to blow the two days plus the two days of travel.” And that he would be “conservative in my answers”.
The only time the gloves appeared to come off was on the trade deficit with India. Declaring “I know what the problems are. The
previous administrations had no clue,” Trump then proceeded to say “India
charges a high amount of tariff.” He then went on to mention the Harley
Davidson motorbikes (for the umpteenth time) as an example of the high-tariffs
“It has to be reciprocal. The U.S. has to be treated fairly. We’ve had a tremendous deficit with India,” said Trump. The deficit while down to $24 billion from the previous $30 billion shouldn’t be there, he continued. He also said that “if the deal (on trade) happens with India, it would be towards the end of this year.”
This should prove helpful for the American leader in what is an election year for him.
He neatly sidestepped questions on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) saying “I didn’t discuss the CAA with PM Modi, it is up to India. I don’t want to say anything on CAA. I hope India will take the right decision for its people. I want to leave that to India and hopefully they will make the right decision for their people.”
As for the riots rocking the country’s capital, the President said they are “an individual incident and it’s up to India to handle it.” Asked about religious freedom in India, the President said: “We specifically discussed Muslims and Christians and I got a very powerful response from him. We talked about religious liberty for a very long time.”
The President further said the PM told him that the population of Muslims which was “14 million a short while ago” is now 200 million! And that the PM also told him that “we’re working very closely with the Muslim community”.
The President offered to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir as he’s done more than once in the past. “Anything I can do to
mediate on Kashmir, I will do. Kashmir has been a thorn in both sides for a long time. There are two sides to every story…”, he said, maintaining that he has a “very good relationship with Pakistan and we talked (he and the PM) about it (Pakistan) at length”.
Asked about the Afghan peace deal, the President said, “India would like to see it happen. We’re pretty close to it… there’s been tremendous praise for the fact that we’re doing it.”
The President got into an argument with CNN correspondent Jim Acosta when he was asked if he would pledge not to take foreign election assistance. Trump lashed out saying, “Your record on telling the truth is so bad, you ought to be ashamed.” But his observation drew a swift response from Acosta who retorted: “Our record on delivering the truth is a lot better than yours.”
And yes, there was the matter of the President constantly referring to one gentleman by the name of Patel. He was actually referring to tycoon Lakshmi Niwas Mittal. That’s Trump for you.