Prior to Trump's first one-on-one meeting with Indian Prime Minister Modi in the White House, US slaps sanctions on the chief of the largest and only surviving indigenous armed rebel group in the disputed Kashmir region.

US President Donald Trump (R) greets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their joint news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, June 26, 2017.
US President Donald Trump (R) greets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their joint news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, June 26, 2017.

US President Donald Trump declared Monday that ties between Washington and New Delhi had "never been stronger" after holding his first talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"The relationship between India and the United States has never been stronger, never been better," Trump told reporters in the White House Rose Garden as he stood alongside the Indian premier.

"I am thrilled to salute you, Prime Minister Modi, and the Indian people for all you are accomplishing together."

"Your accomplishments have been vast. India has the fastest-growing economy in the world. We hope we'll be catching you very soon in terms of percentage increase – I have to tell you, we're working on it!"

The two men, who both rose to power after portraying themselves as outsiders battling a complacent elite, appeared to make an immediate connection.

Modi gave Trump a bear hug during their joint appearance before then showering praise on the US leader.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs US President Donald Trump as they give joint statements in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, June 26, 2017.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs US President Donald Trump as they give joint statements in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, June 26, 2017.

"In our conversation today, President Trump and I have discussed all dimensions of US-India relations," he said at the end of a visit which has seen the announcement of several defence deals. "We want to take our strategic partnership to new heights."

Modi said there was no reason for the US and India to be rivals, stressing that both he and Trump shared a joint desire to increase productivity, growth and job creation.

"We consider the United States as our primary partner in India's socio-economic transformation in all of our flagship programmes and schemes," said Modi.

"I'm sure that convergence between my vision for a new India and President Trump's vision for "Making America Great Again" will add a new dimension to our cooperation," added Modi in reference to Trump's signature campaign slogan.

Joint call for action

Both leaders called North Korea's pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile programmes a "grave threat" to global peace, the White House said in a statement after a meeting of the two leaders on Monday.

Trump and Modi pledged to work together to counter North Korea's "weapons of mass destruction" programmes and vowed to hold "all parties" that support these programmes accountable, the White House statement said.

Trump and Modi also called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries.

The two leaders, who held a meeting at the White House on Monday, also "called on all nations to resolve territorial and maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law," the statement said.

India ranks seventh on the list of countries impacted most by terrorism, while Pakistan ranks fourth on the list of rankings released by the Global Terrorism Index in 2016.

Trump also accepted Modi's offer to visit India, the White House statement added.

US sanctions Kashmir militant leader amid rising tensions in region

Just prior to the Modi-Trump meeting, the US State Department imposed sanctions on Syed Salahuddin, who is the chief of the armed Kashmiri rebel group Hizbul Mujahideen and the chairman of the United Jihad Council (UJC), an alliance of militant rebel groups.

The move means the United States now considers Salahuddin, also known as Mohammad Yusuf Shah, a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist," the state department said in a statement.

Salahuddin in September vowed to block any peaceful resolution to the Kashmir conflict, officials said, threatened to train more suicide bombers, and turn the disputed valley "into a graveyard for Indian forces."

The designation slaps sanctions on "foreign persons who have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of US nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States," the statement read.

The new sanctions mean American citizens are generally barred from doing business with Salahuddin, and all his assets subject to the United States jurisdiction are blocked.

Syed Salahuddin (C), leader of the United Jihad Council, refers to the crackdown by Indian security forces in the disputed Kashmir region as a
Syed Salahuddin (C), leader of the United Jihad Council, refers to the crackdown by Indian security forces in the disputed Kashmir region as a "genocide." (Reuters/Archive)

The State Department said that under Salahuddin, Hizbul Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for several attacks.

Formed in 1990, Hizbul Mujahideen is Kashmir's largest and only surviving indigenous armed rebel group. Its supreme commander, Syed Salahuddin, is based in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

The group was led in Indian-administered Kashmir by Burhan Wani until his death on July 8, 2016, which sparked deadly clashes between protestors and security forces.

Ever since their independence in 1947, Pakistan and India each administer part of Muslim-majority Kashmir region but claim the region entirely.

In the portion administered by New Delhi, opposition to India is strong and many of 12 million people resent the deployment of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops and openly voice support for the rebels fighting for independence or a merger with neighbouring Pakistan.

Since the 1990s, more than 68,000 people have been killed in Kashmir's uprising against Indian rule and the subsequent Indian military crackdown.

Separatist leaders accuse New Delhi of keeping people in Kashmir, long the centre of a bitter territorial dispute between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, under the heel of up to 750,000 security forces.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies