The sources pointed to the State of the Union address that the U.S. President must give during the Congress session around the same time in January.
U.S. President Donald Trump will not travel to India as the chief guest for the Republic Day Parade, and the White House has conveyed its regrets to the Narendra Modi government, The Hindu has learnt. The government is now exploring several other options for the event. According to multiple government and diplomatic sources, a final decision has been conveyed to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), with Mr. Trump’s “crowded calendar” being cited as the primary reason for his not accepting the invitation.
The sources, who did not wish to be identified since neither the MEA nor the White House has yet put out a statement, also pointed to the uncertainties over the political situation in Washington, which made it hard for the U.S. to confirm Mr. Trump’s attendance at the parade on January 26 in New Delhi. The sources pointed to the State of the Union address that the U.S. President must give during the Congress session around the same time in January.
In 2015, when U.S. President Barack Obama had come to India for the parade, he had been able to negotiate to bring forward the address to January 20, and travelled to India after it. In the current situation, however, the current Speaker, Paul Ryan, has resigned and Mr. Trump would not be able to even begin the negotiations until December, when a new Speaker is elected by representatives going into the mid-term elections on November 6.
The misgivings over Mr. Trump’s schedule had been conveyed to India when officials had first “sounded out” the U.S. administration early this year, an official confirmed. “We always knew this would be a difficult visit to get a firm decision on, as the date for India is non-negotiable. As a result, we didn’t take it past the initial rounds of discussions, and left it to the U.S. government to work out.” In August, in response to a direct question about whether Mr. Trump would travel to India for the Republic Day parade, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had said the invitation was being processed.
“I know that the invitation has been extended, but I do not believe that a final decision has been made,” Ms. Sanders had said. Subsequent interactions, when Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale travelled to Washington in August, the 2+2 ministerial dialogue was held in Delhi, and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval went to Washington ended without any announcement on the Trump visit, leading to growing speculation that it was not happening.
“In diplomatic parlance, if a few months go by with no reply, then that means the reply is no,” an official told The Hindu. With a clear no from the U.S. now, the government is considering its options, with unconfirmed reports that a “maritime neighbour” may be chosen. The new President of the Maldives Ibrahim Solih, who will be sworn in on November 17, is reportedly one of the leaders the government may approach, while the Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Jugnauth, who is expected to travel to India for the Pravasi Bharatiya Conference on January 21-23, is another name being speculated about.
Mr. Trump’s visit was being seen as an opportunity to mend ties between the two countries that have seen several ruptures over India’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missiles, impending U.S. sanctions over Iranian oil imports, as well as an impasse on trade tariffs. In sharp contrast to his frequent conversations with U.S. President Obama, Mr. Modi and Mr. Trump last spoke over the telephone in February, and last met a year ago in Manila. However, officials said a meeting between Mr. Modi and Mr. Trump was still “possible” on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina on November 30.