New Delhi/Washington, DC: Days after Donald Trump targeted India for funding a ‘useless library’ in Afghanistan, the President of the United States spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the telephone where they discussed the contentious issue of the US’s trade deficit with India and ways to enhance cooperation in areas of defence and counter-terrorism. 

The two leaders agreed to, among other things, increase cooperation in Afghanistan, according to the White House. India has been actively involved in the reconstruction efforts in war-ravaged Afghanistan. It has committed about $3 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled the Taliban regime after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Expanding security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific was another topic Modi and Trump dealt with in the course of their latest conversation.
During the conversation on Monday, the two leaders exchanged new year greetings and expressed satisfaction at the continued growth of the India-US strategic partnership in 2018.

They also appreciated developments such as the launch of the new 2+2 dialogue mechanism and the first ever trilateral summit of India, US and Japan, a statement from the prime minister’s office in New Delhi said.

The two nations held the first edition of the 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi in September. The two leaders also took positive note of the growing bilateral cooperation in defence, counter-terrorism and energy, besides the coordination on regional and global issues, it said.

“The leaders agreed to strengthen the US-India strategic partnership in 2019 and exchanged perspectives on how to reduce the US trade deficit with India,” the White House said in a readout of the call. 

According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the US’ goods and services trade with India totalled an estimated $126.2 billion in 2017. Exports were $49.4 billion; imports were $76.7 billion. The US goods and services trade deficit with India was $27.3 billion in 2017.

This was the first phone call between the two leaders after the tri-lateral summit meeting they had with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Buenos Aires in November on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Argentina.