Addressing a joint media briefing after his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday, 26 June, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said the two discussed many of the outstanding issues that have arisen between the two countries.
"Both as countries and as foreign ministers, harmonising our interests and our views, that's really the task of diplomacy. Obviously from time to time in any relationship, specific issues will arise and I think we have discussed many of those issues,” Jaishankar said.
TENSIONS BETWEEN US & IRAN
The talks came amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran, and questions about how would India be affected because of the friction. Jaishankar said the situation in the Gulf did figure in the meeting.
"We have a certain perspective on Iran, obviously from where we are based. And the secretary shared with me the American concerns on Iran. I guess both of us certainly came out much better informed of each other's concerns in that regard," he said.
Meanwhile, Pompeo, during the briefing, called Iran the "world's largest state-sponsor of terror".
On issues arising from Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), Jaishankar said, “We have many relationships with many countries, many of them are of some standing. They have a history. We will do what is in our national interest.”
The S-400 missile defence system deal with Russia and trade were two other key issues in the limelight ahead of the meeting between Jaishankar and Pompeo. During the media briefing, Pompeo said talks were held on both the topics.
“We want India to be able to (defend itself)... India is an important friend and partner for the US... We will find a way to work through them (these issues).”Mike Pompeo
‘INDO-PACIFIC IS FOR SOMETHING, NOT AGAINST SOMEBODY’
Asserting that the "US-India partnership is already beginning to reach new heights", Pompeo said the defence cooperation between the two countries has been bolstered, and the common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific has been solidified. "We have grown cooperation in energy, space and other areas," he added.
“I made the point that Indo-Pacific is for something, not against somebody, and that something is peace, security, stability and prosperity. We are looking at a landscape where a number of independent players work together for what they believe to be the global good.”S Jaishankar
The issues of terrorism and the situation in Afghanistan were also discussed in the meeting between the two leaders, Jaishankar said. During the briefing, Pompeo also took a dig at China's Belt and Road project, saying countries which have signed on to it have come not with just “strings attached,” but with “shackles.”
POMPEO ADVOCATES FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Pompeo also called for speaking "strongly" in favour of religious freedom and asserted that the world is worse off when they are compromised.
His remarks assume significance as they come days after the State Department, in its annual 2018 International Religious Freedom Report released last week, alleged that mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, particularly Muslims, continued in India in 2018, amid rumours that victims had traded or killed cows for beef.
"India is the birthplace of four major world religions. Let's stand up together for religious freedom for all, let's speak out strongly together in favour of those rights for whenever we do compromise those rights, the world is worse off," Pompeo said in his India policy speech at the India International Centre here.
He also said the US is pleased to see the UN designating JeM chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist.
MEETINGS WITH MODI AND DOVAL
Earlier on Wednesday, Pompeo held meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
Right now, we have two leaders in President Trump and PM Modi, who are not afraid to take risks where it’s appropriate. Let’s see each other with new eyes and embrace the age of ambition.Mike Pompeo
PM Modi and US President Donald Trump are expected to meet on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 summit.
Ahead of the strategically-important India-US talks, diplomatic sources on Tuesday had said that India meets the US waiver criteria for procuring the S-400 missile defence system from sanctions-hit Russia, and asserted that New Delhi cannot "wish away" its defence ties with Moscow.
WHERE THINGS STAND
Pompeo’s visit also comes against the backdrop of the US recently removing India from its preferential trade list – with India then imposing retaliatory tariffs on 28 items imported from the US.
Incidentally, Pompeo, in his address during the India Ideas Summit of US-India Business Council on 12 June, stated that trade barriers and data localisation requirements are issues of major concern in their trade engagement with India.
The US had in March 2018 imposed 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent import duty on aluminium products. Earlier, there was no duty on these goods.
As India is one of the major exporters of these items to the US, the move has a revenue implication of about $240 million on domestic steel and aluminium products.
Apart from this, the US is also reportedly tightening rules for the H1-B visas for nations that force foreign companies to store data locally. The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
On the eve of Pompeo's visit to New Delhi, a top US lawmaker had asked him to convey to the Indian government a “predictable, coherent and consistent” strategy that will help the bilateral relationship reach its full potential, insisting that the strength of ties cannot be boiled down to trade deficits and tariffs, according to PTI.
Congressman Eliot L Engel, Chairman of House Committee on Foreign Affairs, in a letter to Pompeo on Monday, had said the Trump administration's policies have not only failed to advance the US’s objectives, but have also introduced significant friction in its partnership with New Delhi.
“I am deeply concerned by the inconsistencies between the administration’s rhetoric and actions toward India, which are further exacerbated by the lack of a confirmed assistant secretary more than two years into this administration’s term.”Eliot L Engel, Chairman of House Committee on Foreign Affairs
He said tensions have increased over each side's tariff policies, starting with the US tariffs on steel and aluminium.
There is a growing view that the administration is attempting to c oerce India into complying with the US demands on a range of issues, rather than negotiating with them as a strategic partner, Engel said.
(With inputs from PTI.)