Washington: The Donald Trump administration has a "very positive view" of the Indo-US relationship and a lot of interest in taking the ties forward, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said on Saturday after his wide-ranging talks with senior cabinet members and top officials.
"Optimistic" about the continuation of the upward trajectory of the bilateral relationship, Jaishankar told Indian reporters that the India-US strategic and commercial dialogue, which was started under the previous Obama administration, would be held later this year.
Dates were being worked out for the India visit of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to hold the first India US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue under the Trump administration. "Overall, (the) sense was that the administration has a very positive view of the relationship, positive view of India," said Jaishankar, who along with Commerce Secretary Rita Teotia, is on a visit here to engage with the new Trump administration.
"We saw a lot of goodwill and a lot of interest in taking the relationship forward," he said.
Jaishankar, during his visit, held a number of key meetings here, including with Secretary of State Tillerson, Commerce Secretary Ross, Secretary of Homeland Security Gen (retd) John Kelly, National Security Advisor R McMaster, and Deputy Assistant to the President, Ken Juster.
The visiting Indian officials, accompanied by the Indian Ambassador to the US, Navtej Sarna, also met the top leadership of the US Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and his House counterpart Congressman Ed Royce. They also met Senator Mark Warner, Co-Chair of the Senate India caucus, and Co-Chairs of India Caucus in the House Congressman George Holding and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
Jaishankar and Teotia, during their visit, interacted with US businesses through the US India Business Council. "The (US) Congress has been extraordinarily supportive of the growth of this relationship. Since there has been a change in the political landscape, we thought engaging them was something which was important," Jaishankar said.
"Broadly with the (US) administration, we explained to them the progress that the India US relation has made in the last many years. So it was a full spectrum (of) discussions," he said.
With Tillerson, Jaishankar discussed bilateral strategic relationship as well as the situation in Afghanistan and the Asia Pacific region. Discussions with Secretary Ross were more focused on bilateral trade and economic cooperation, and with the Homeland Secretary, to some extent, issues related to immigration and also welfare of the Indians and Indian American community in the US were discussed.
Jaishankar's discussions with the Homeland Secretary assume significance in the backdrop of the death of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was killed in a shooting by an American navy veteran.
Another Indian man Alok Madasani was critically injured while an American, who tried to intervene during the shooting, also sustained injuries. "Yes, we have a strong sense of optimism. I think, the current Administration has a very strong sense of optimism about the relationship," Jaishankar said in response to a question.
Ross' own business experience with India has been very positive, he said. "What we heard across the board in the Administration, whether it was business, security, defence cooperation, whether our engagement in the region or working together on international issues, overall a very positive sense of India as a partner," he said.
"Also, a lot of respect for the economic changes which have taken place in India. An acknowledgement that there has been a very robust growth and that this has made India a particularly attractive partner. So a lot of appetite for working on economic cooperation," Jaishankar said.
Referring to the last three US administrations, the foreign secretary said all of them were significantly different from the other. "And yet, India-US relations with each administration actually grew to a higher level. The sense is, this is a good relationship that this administration is inheriting. India is seen as a good solid economic partner, a country with which it has a strong security and foreign policy convergences,"
"At the same time given the fact that the Trump administration looks at the world quite differently than its predecessor, we need to absorb that and adapt to it and look at new possibilities of cooperation. Certainly, the sense was that we would like to do more with India," he said.
Responding to a question on Trump administration's policy with regard to China and Pakistan, the foreign secretary said they did discuss the global strategic landscape and exchanged ideas.
"In the meetings with the secretary of state and the national security adviser, we discussed Asia Pacific, we discussed Afghanistan, we discussed the challenge of terrorism," he said.
Jaishankar said he got the impression that the current administration was envisaging expanding their discussion with India in a number of areas. "At this time, a lot of it was conceptual. When we have ministerial visits then people would deal with it in greater detail," he said, adding that on the economic side there was great interest in growing trade, increasing investment and in finding various ways of cooperating with each other.
Teotia said the plans being announced by Trump presents an opportunity for Indian companies in the US. "Our investment into the US gas (has) been growing," she said.
The growth in American economy would present more opportunities to Indian companies, she asserted. "At the same time, we felt through all interactions that there is an appreciation of the acceleration of reforms in India," she added.
Responding to questions, Teotia said there was no specific suggestion on a free trade agreement with India. "At this moment, I think, the focus of the administration would be in immediate neighbourhood, NAFTA. At this point of time (there was) no such suggestion," she said responding to a question on a possible bilateral free trade agreement between India and the United States.
Teotia acknowledged that there was a mention of the hefty import duty in India on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. "Just an enquiry. We too are informed that Harley Davidson has set up its own plant in India already. Its their first plant in Asia and they service much of Asia from this place. As of now, we do not think it's an issue," she said.
Jaishankar said he does not see any contradiction between Make in India and Hire America and Buy America. "If there is a more robust growth in America, I don't see how it is to the detriment of India. In fact, it can offer opportunity. We heard a sense of appreciation today that
American companies are investing more strongly in India as well as an invitation to Indian companies to come and invest here," he said.
Updated Date: Mar 04, 2017 12:40 PM