Washington : US President Donald Trump created history of sorts when he invited Indian Ambassador Navtej Singh Sarna to share the podium with him at the White House Diwali event.
In fact, Trump’s body language, his remarks and the atmospherics inside the Roosevelt Room of the White House where he lit the ceremonial ‘Diya’ to celebrate his second annual Diwali on Tuesday, reflected the significance he attaches to the India-US relationship.
“We’re very close. I think closer maybe than ever before,” Trump said at the White House Diwali event as he praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and described him as his “great friend”.
“We love your country,” the president told the Indian Ambassador. “I have great, great respect for, as you know, Prime Minister Modi — tremendous respect. So just please give my warmest regards,” he said, adding that he would soon be talking to Modi.
“It was a great honour to participate in the Diwali function,” Sarna told PTI after the event where he was seen standing alongside Trump. The president also asked the top Indian diplomat to give some remarks on the occasion.
This was the first time that an Indian ambassador has been given such a recognition at the White House, which is generally reserved for the envoys of countries like close US ally Israel.
While Indian ambassadors have been invited a few times in the last 15 editions of the annual Diwali celebrations at the White House, this was the first time that the Indian envoy along with his spouse was seen standing along with the US president during the entire event.
“It is a great honour for India and for me personally to be invited to the White House for the Diwali ceremony at which all the top Indian American administration officials were invited,” Sarna said.
In his brief remarks, Sarna said the president hosting the Diwali event is a privilege for India and for the Indian American community.
“They feel very welcome here and they are integrated into the US society. They are a plus-plus for both India and for the United States. I think we are looking at one of the best times we’ve ever had for the India-US relationship,” said the Indian ambassador.
Trump said the US has deep ties to India. “I am grateful for my friendship with Prime Minister Modi,” he said as he referred to the ongoing negotiations between India and the US on a possible trade deal.
Unlike his remarks in the past when he was highly critical of India’s tariff policies and even described India as a “tariff king”, Trump indicated that the talks are progressing quite well on the trade deal.
“We’re trying very hard to make better trade deals with India, but they’re very good traders,” Trump said evoking laughter.
“They’re very good negotiators, you would say, right? The best. So we’re working and it’s moving along,” said the president.
“India is the world’s largest democracy, and the relationship between our two countries can act as a bulwark for freedom, prosperity, and peace,” Trump said.