×

UPDATE 2-Trump urges India's Modi do more in trade

(Updates with joint press statements)

WASHINGTON, June 26 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to do more to relax Indian trade barriers on Monday during talks in which both leaders took great pains to stress the importance of a strong U.S.-Indian relationship.

At a closely watched first meeting between the two, Trump and Modi appeared to be getting along well. Modi pulled in Trump for a bear hug on the stage as the cameras rolled in the Rose Garden.

I deeply appreciate your strong commitment to the enhancement of our bilateral relations," Modi told Trump. "I am sure that under your leadership a mutually beneficial strategic partnership will gain new strength, new positively, and will reach new heights.

Trump also was warm but made clear he sees a need for more balance in the U.S.-India trade relationship in keeping with his campaign promise to expand American exports and create more jobs at home. Last year the U.S. trade deficit with India neared $31 billion.

Trump said he would like a trading relationship that is "fair and reciprocal."

"It is important that barriers be removed to the export of U.S. goods into your markets and that we reduce our trade deficit with your country," he said.

Trump said he was pleased about an Indian airlines recent order of 100 new American planes and that the United States looked forward to exporting more energy, including major long-term contracts to purchase American natural gas.

These energy contracts "are being negotiated and we will sign trying to get the price up a little bit," Trump said.

Modi came to Washington looking to revitalize a relationship that had flagged as Trump looked to build a strong relationship with India's rival, China.

Modi praised Trumps vast and successful experience in the business world and great leadership for U.S.-India ties. He said he had invited Trump to India but no time was given for such a visit.

Modi harked back to Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan to stress that his agenda for his country was little different than Trump's.

"I am sure that the convergence of my vision for 'New India' and President Trumps vision for making America great again will add new dimensions to our cooperation," he said.

If Modi needed reassurances from Trump, he got them. Trump did not mention U.S. differences with India on immigration and the Paris climate accord.

"The future of our partnership has never looked brighter," Trump said.

As they met, a Pentagon agency said the U.S. State Department has approved the possible sale to India of a Boeing C-17 transport aircraft with an estimated cost of $366 million.

Trump administration officials had pointed to both leaders' impact on social media - each has more than 30 million Twitter followers - as proof that they are cut from the same cloth, and predicted the two would get along well.

Later, Trump and Modi had a working dinner, the first time Trump has played host to a foreign dignitary at a White House dinner.

"If the chemistry is good, everything else gets sorted," said an Indian official. "The only way is up. How much up we go depends on the leaders. If they click, we go up higher."

Five U.S. senators - Republicans John Kennedy, Roy Blunt, Mike Crapo and James Lankford, and Democrat Amy Klobuchar - signed a letter to Trump expressing concern about violations of religious liberty in India. The letter mentioned discrimination against religious-based aid groups and asked Trump to make the issue a top priority during Modi's visit. (Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bill Trott)