NEW DELHI — A huge cheering crowd. Baseball caps with his name on them. A life-size cutout of himself flashing the thumbs-up.
President Donald Trump got all the pageantry he’d been promised on Monday, Day One of his first trip to India since taking office.
But Trump also made some remarks that may not be as well received by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi: He highlighted the “very good” U.S. relationship with Pakistan and the importance of unity among India’s various religions.
On stage he announced a $3 billion deal to sell American-made military equipment to India, a move he cast as a sign of the deepening ties between the two countries.
“I believe the United States should be India’s premier defense partner, and that’s the way it’s working out,” Trump said.
The carefully coordinated event in Ahmedabad, a city about 580 miles from New Delhi where both leaders spoke, was part of a two-day spectacle that Modi had promised to deliver for Trump. They stepped on stage to raucous cheers from a crowd that appeared to fill the 110,000-capacity stadium, exchanged hugs and stood side-by-side as the U.S. and Indian national anthems played.
In his own speech, Modi heaped praise upon Trump, repeatedly calling him a friend. “President Trump thinks big,” he said.
Trump was equally effusive about Modi, but he also kicked off his first trip to India by touching on a major geopolitical flashpoint for his host country by praising the U.S. relationship with Pakistan.
The president noted that his administration has positive ties with Pakistan as the two countries try to combat terrorism on the Pakistani border. “Our relationship with Pakistan is a very good one. Thanks to these efforts, we are beginning to see signs of big progress with Pakistan,” Trump said.
The Indian government is likely to bristle at Trump’s expression of support for Pakistan while on Indian soil, given longtime tensions between the two countries, particularly over control of Kashmir. Trump also twice remarked on the importance of unity among Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Jews, at a time when Modi is under pressure for cracking down on religious minorities.
But Trump also appears to have built up a wealth of good will with Modi, who could use the boost that a visit from the U.S. president provides. Trump’s approval rating in India is 56 percent, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.
The U.S. and India were unable to reach a trade agreement in advance of Trump’s visit, but he said he’s “optimistic that working together ,the prime minister and I can reach a fantastic deal.”