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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a leader US President Donald Trump can truly work with and the two should communicate in their first meeting the desire to advance bilateral relations while addressing concerns over H1B work visas, experts here have said. "The visit of Prime Minister Modi couldn't come at a more opportune time. President Trump badly needs both an opportunity to bolster his presidency and a clear achievement to add to his win column. In India, Trump has a natural partner, and in Modi, he has a leader he can truly work with," Asia Society Policy Institute Assistant Director Anubhav Gupta said on the eve of Modi's visit to the US for his first bilateral meeting with Trump. Gupta said Trump and Modi can begin on the right foot by communicating their desire to advance the relationship to new heights. However, the two should also ensure that "legitimate disagreements" on certain issues, including the H1-B work visas and intellectual property rights do not hold the relationship back. "There is strong bi-partisan support in the US Congress for a closer partnership with India. India's fast growing and increasingly more open economy are huge opportunities for the United States. Additionally, India can serve as a vital partner for the United States in the Asia-Pacific region.
For all of these reasons, pursuing stronger ties with India would be a clear win for the Trump administration," Gupta said. He added that Modi, who has steadily moved India closer to the United States in his three years in office, is well positioned to take the relationship further after consolidating political power in India through big victories in recent state elections in India. With Modi "strongly situated" to win re-election in 2019, the US should take advantage of his good standing. "The visit's success will depend on whether the Trump Administration has been able to focus enough of its attention on India to decide whether and how it will seek an upgrade in the relationship. It will also depend on whether the White House can reassure India about some of its major concerns," Gupta said. The Institute's Director of Asian Security Lindsey Ford said while Trump and Modi may have challenging waters to navigate on the economic front, especially regarding trade deficits and visa issues, a "bright spot" in their conversation is likely to be the security and defence relationship. "The most notable deliverable likely to emerge from the visit is the announcement of the US decision to sell India 22 unmanned Guardian drones, a request which had been at the top of Modi's wish list. If approved, India will become the first non-NATO country permitted to purchase the high-tech drones," Ford said. The drones deal, combined with Lockheed Martin's recent announcement of a new joint venture with Tata Advanced Systems, signifies the rapid growth of US-India defence ties over the past decade, Ford added. Gupta stressed that in his meeting wth Trump, Modi is sure to bring up South Asian stability, in particular US policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. "India will look for reassurance that the Administration is committed for the longer term in Afghanistan and has a true interest in and strategy for maintaining stability. Modi will also push the administration for a more stern US policy toward Pakistan, which continues to support militancy in Afghanistan and India. Support on these two fronts would reassure India greatly," Gupta said. The two leaders can commit to strengthening economic ties by agreeing to a genuine dialogue on enhancing trade or negotiating a bilateral investment treaty, Gupta said. Ford added that given the uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration's Asia policy, and in particular, US strategy in South Asia, Modi will also want to remind Trump of the significance of the US-India strategic partnership and of the US commitment to long-term stability in Afghanistan. Noting that India is the indispensable country for addressing climate change, Asia Society Policy Institute Director of Asian Sustainability Jackson Ewing said India embodies the core climate debate about how much emerging economies should rely on fossil fuels for their development needs. "India will aggressively transition away from fossil fuels only if doing so makes strategic and economic sense to the country's political and economic leadership," Ewing said. "Accelerating its transition to a cleaner energy future - as Modi makes clear at every opportunity - will require substantial international support. It remains to be seen if such support is in the offing," Ewing added.