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After Huge Welcome In India, Trump Clinches $3 Billion Military Equipment Sale

India's tariffs were still too high, probably the world's highest, Trump said in his only criticism of the world's biggest democracy during a visit that he said was a spectacular success.

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U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday India will buy $3 billion worth of military equipment, including attack helicopters, as the two countries deepen defence and commercial ties in an attempt to balance the weight of China in the region.

India and the United States were also making progress on a big trade deal, Trump said. Negotiators from the two sides have wrangled for months to narrow differences on farm goods, medical devices, digital trade and new tariffs.

India's tariffs were still too high, probably the world's highest, Trump said in his only criticism of the world's biggest democracy during a visit that he said was a spectacular success.

"We are being charged large amounts of tariffs, can't do that," he said at a news briefing, again pointing to Indian duties on Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Trump was accorded a massive reception in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat on Monday, with more than 100,000 people filing into a cricket stadium for a "Namaste Trump" rally.

On Tuesday, Trump sat down for one-on-one talks with Modi followed by delegation-level meetings to try and move forward on issues that have divided the two countries, mainly a festering trade dispute.

After those meetings, Trump said his visit had been productive, with the conclusion of deals to buy U.S. helicopters for the Indian military. India will buy 24 SeaHawk helicopters from Lockheed Martin equipped with Hellfire missiles worth $2.6 billion and plans an order for six Apache copters.

India is modernising its military to narrow a gap with China and has increasingly turned towards the United States over its traditional supplier, Russia.

Trump said he hoped to secure a big trade deal, likely by the end of the year.

"Our teams have made tremendous progress on a comprehensive trade agreement and I’m optimistic we can reach a deal that will be of great importance to both countries," said Trump in remarks made alongside Modi.

The two countries had initially planned to produce a "mini deal," but that proved elusive.

Instead, both sides are now aiming for a bigger package, including possibly a free trade agreement.

Trump said he also discussed with Modi, whom he called his "dear friend," the importance of a secure 5G telecoms network in India, ahead of a planned airwaves auction by the country.

The United States has banned Huawei Technologies, arguing the use of its equipment created the potential for espionage by China - a claim denied by Huawei and Beijing - but India, where telecoms companies have long used network gear from the Chinese firm, is yet to make a call.

Trump described Monday’s rally in Ahmedabad, again praised Modi and spoke of the size of the crowd, claiming there were "thousands of people outside trying to get in."

"I would even imagine they were there more for you than for me, I would hope so," he told Modi. "The people love you...every time I mentioned your name, they would cheer."

In New Delhi, Trump was given a formal state welcome on Tuesday at the red sandstone presidential palace, with a 21-cannon gun salute and a red-coated honour guard on horseback on a smoggy day.

HUG GETS TIGHTER

India is one of a handful of countries where Trump's personal approval rating is above 50% and Trump's trip received wall-to-wall media coverage, with commentators saying he had hit all the right notes on his first official visit to the world's biggest democracy.

They were also effusive in their praise for Modi, for pulling off a spectacular reception for Trump.

"Modi-Trump hug gets tighter," ran a headline in the Times of India.

But in a sign of the underlying political tensions in India, violent protests broke out in Delhi on Monday over a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims and is a further attempt to undermine the secular foundations of India's democracy. They say the law is part of a pattern of divisiveness being followed by Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

At least 7 people were killed and about 150 injured in the clashes that took place in another part of the capital, away from the centre of Delhi where Modi was hosting Trump.

Trump told reporters he had spoken with Modi about religious freedoms but wouldn't be drawn further into the issue.

Trump on Monday extolled India's rise as a stable and prosperous democracy as one of the achievements of the century.

"You have done it as a tolerant country. And you have done it as a great, free country," he said.

Delhi has also been struggling with high air pollution, and on Tuesday, the air quality was moderately poor at 193 on a government index that measures pollution up to a scale of 500. The WHO considers anything above 60 unhealthy.

(Reuters)


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