President Trump spoke at a joint press conference in the Oval Office with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday to address what he called the United States’ “enormous” defense and economic relationship with India, but he also suggested that he saw good reason to improve relations with India over alleged Muslim violence in the state of Gujarat.
“I was really pleased that the prime minister emphasized the personal commitment he has to religious freedom in India,” Trump said. “It’s been said time and time again that he shows tremendous respect for the religion. That’s a very important issue for me. It is an important issue for this country. We’re very much protected from terrorist attacks both at home and around the world, but it’s very hard to deal with because of all of the intolerance that we see.”
Modi’s controversial ties to mob violence in Gujarat in 2002, when more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed, drew widespread scrutiny after Trump spoke up for the Hindu nationalist politician at his joint press conference in the Philippines in November. (Some observers saw this as Trump continuing a strategy of distancing himself from his own party’s candidates, who have featured Hindu nationalist leaders and ideas in their campaigns.)
“I think we agree that not only religious freedom, but more broadly, for people to practice their religion in freedom in India has been a great thing for that country. And so you could see that that relationship has gone up and will continue to go up over a long period of time,” said Trump in the Philippines.
Modi and Trump separately discussed the two countries’ defense and economic ties in Monday’s press conference, and a joint communique released after the discussion urged both countries to “establish the confidence and trust required for greater cooperation to ensure security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Vice President Mike Pence also met with Modi in New Delhi on Saturday, after his meeting with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, in Kabul on Friday.