PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend a joint news conference in the Indian capital.—Reuters
PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend a joint news conference in the Indian capital.—Reuters

NEW DELHI: US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that India was happy with the US-Taliban talks, and once again offered to mediate on the Kashmir dispute, citing good relations with leaders on both sides.

Addressing a press conference hosted by the US embassy at the Maurya Sheraton Hotel where he was staying, President Trump gushed over the lavish hospitality he was given over his two-day stay and declared Prime Minister Narendra Modi as true upholder of religious freedoms. He was reminded by an American correspondent that the president was in no position to defend the rights of the Muslim minority having curtailed their immigration rights in his own country. Mr Trump conceded that he had not discussed the controversial citizenship law introduced by his host and insisted it was up to India to handle it fairly.

At least 10 civilians and a police constable have died in unabated violence in Delhi. The violence began a day ahead of Mr Trump’s arrival after a Hindutva leader from Mr Modi’s party threatened to harm Muslim women who had been protesting against the law peacefully for over two months.

Dodges question on controversial citizenship law

“Yes, I spoke to PM Modi on it,” Mr Trump said in response to a question about the US talks with the Afghan Taliban. “I think India would like to see it happen. We are pretty close. Everybody is happy about it.”

Earlier, in a joint media appearance with Mr Modi, he had stuck to discussion of terrorism. In the subsequent solo news conference though, he expressed his willingness to help resolve the Kashmir dispute.

“I said I will do whatever I can do to help because my relationship with both gentlemen (Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan PM Imran Khan) is so good. Anything I can do to mediate, I would do…They (Pak) are working on Kashmir. Kashmir has been a thorn in lots of people’s side for a long time. There are two sides to every story. We discussed terrorism at length today,” Mr Trump said.

Asked about the violence in parts of Delhi over citizenship law protests and religious freedom, he said he discussed it with Mr Modi and “he wants people to have religious freedom”.

On the violence in Delhi, President Trump said it was “Up to India”.

“We did talk about religious freedom. The PM said he wants people to have religious freedom. They have worked really hard on it. I heard about the individual attacks but I did not discuss it. It is up to India,” Mr Trump said.

Asked about his position on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the US president said: “I don’t want to discuss that, I want to leave that to India. I hope they will do the right thing for the people of India.”

He also threw in more words of praise for PM Modi, saying he “is a strong man, I have seen him in action, he will take care of it.”

Later, asked about previous times when he spoke about mediation and India rejecting his offer, Mr Trump demurred: “I didn’t say anything about that (being mediator). Kashmir obviously is a big problem between India and Pakistan, they are going to work out their problem. They have been doing it for a long time.”

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2020