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Trump steers clear of CAA controversy


New Delhi

After talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday stressed that the Indian leader wants people to have religious freedom and also steered clear of the row over the contentious CAA.

Trump also repeated his mediation offer to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan, noting Kashmir is a “big problem” and has been “thorn in lot of people’s sides” for long time.

He said there are two sides to every story, comments that came days ahead of the plans to sign a peace deal between the US and Taliban on February 29 for which Pakistan has been invited.

“If anything I can do to mediate, I will do,” Trump said, adding Pakistan figured in his talks with Modi.

“I have good equation with Pakistan PM Imran Khan. They are working to control cross-border terrorism,” Trump said after India flagged its concerns over terrorism emanating from across the border.

Trump went on to say that Modi is a very religious and calm man, but he is a very strong person. “He is very tough. He has got that foremost in his mind, terrorism and he will take care of it.”

The President was effusive in his praise of Modi on multiple occasions, calling him a “terrific leader” and a “nice man who is doing a fantastic job”.

At the meeting between Modi and Trump at the stately Hyderabad House

hours after the President was accorded a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the two leaders said there has been “tremendous progress” in negotiations between India and the US for a “big and comprehensive” trade deal which will be of great importance to both the countries.

But Trump’s press conference at the ITC Maurya hotel where he stayed overnight came as a surprise and generated a lot of excitement in the media fraternity amid speculation he may touch upon controversial issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act  against the backdrop of the violence in Delhi over the new law that has left 11 dead.

“I’m gonna be not at all controversial… I don’t want to blow the two days plus two days of travel on one answer, one little answer… So I will be very conservative in my answers if you don’t mind,” Trump said at the start of the 45-minute packed news conference.

In reply to a question, Trump said issues involving the CAA are up to India and asserted that Modi wants people to have religious freedom.

“We did talk about religious freedom. Prime Minister Modi wants people to have religious freedom in India… If you look back India has worked hard for religious freedom,” Trump said.

On CAA, he said, “I don’t want to say anything on CAA. It is up to India. I hope it will take the right decision for its people.”

Asked if he discussed the incidents of violence taking place during his visit, he said he didn’t discuss individual attacks and “that is up to India.”

He also talked about his country’s peace deal with the Taliban with Modi, and said India will like to see it happen.

At a news conference, foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said the new citizenship law did not come up during Modi-Trump talks, noting the two leaders talked about religious harmony in a “positive way”.

“The issue of CAA did not come up, but with regard to what you mentioned, the term religious freedom, there was appreciation from both sides that pluralism and diversity are a common binding factor of both the countries,” he added.

He said India and the US held talks in five major categories – security, defence, energy, technology and people-to-people contact. Trump assured India of highest consideration for collaboration in defence sector.

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