Mike Pompeo meets Narendra Modi, S Jaishankar and Ajit Doval; terrorism, tarrifs and Russia deal on agenda at US-India talks

US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi on Wednesday as the two nations looked to hold strategic talks on various issues including trade, tariffs, terrorism and the escalated tension in the West Asian region.

National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval also held talks with Pompeo on issues of national security at a time when India has recently had a skirmish with Pakistan and US almost came to blows with Iran after the latter downed one of its spy drones in the Persian Gulf.

Pompeo, who arrived in Delhi late on Tuesday also held a closed-door meeting with Indian business leaders. He will deliver a policy speech at the India International Centre later in the day.

Jaishankar and Pompeo's meet is expected to set the ground for Modi's meeting with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka later in June. Both Jaishankar and Pompeo will accompany the respective heads of state to Japan and will be present at the meeting there.

Despite, the seemingly strained relationship between the nations due to the increased sanctions (US withdrew duty-free access to Indian exporters under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP)) and retaliatory tariffs (higher US import duties on steel and aluminium), India is likely to stay firm on the S-400 deal with Russia and seek a waiver under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).

The newly-appointed MEA Jaishankar, who will be meeting his American counterpart for the first time, is also likely to counsel the US interlocutor that both US and Iran should “de-escalate” the situation owing to its concern over the safety of its diaspora and peace in the region. India will also discuss alternative sources of oil, reports suggested.

In 2018, after the India-US 2+2 talks, both sides announced their readiness to begin negotiations on the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) that would support closer defence industry cooperation and collaboration. However, hours after Pompeo landed in Delhi, US said it wants India to lower trade barriers and embrace fair and reciprocal trade.

"There is enormous potential to grow our trade relationship and create the high-quality jobs that Prime Minister Modi wants if India lowers trade barriers and embraces fair and reciprocal trade," a US State Department factsheet said. “The Trump Administration is working to ensure that American companies operating in India have the same level playing field that Indian companies enjoy in the United States,” it said in reference to ongoing US pressure on India for more market access.

At the ‘India Ideas Summit’ in Washington DC earlier in June, Pompeo had said, "We remain open to dialogue, and hope that our friends in India will drop their trade barriers and trust in the competitiveness of their own companies, their own businesses, their own people, and private sector companies."

Meanwhile, apart from the trade talks, rising tensions with Pakistan and the situation in West Asia including the developments in Afghanistan will also find space in the discussions. Another topic that is likely to figure high in the talks is the H-1B visa issue.

India was alarmed at the possibility of caps on H-1B work visas that allow thousands of skilled Indians to work in the United States, as retaliation for its data localisation drive that affected numerous payment gateways including American companies Visa and MasterCard. However, the US State Department and Indian authorities had later confirmed that there were no such plans.

The US factsheet released on Tuesday read: “The bond between the United States and India is unbreakable” as the title for a section on people-to-people ties; the presence of four million-strong community of Indian Americans; the growing number of Indians studying in the US — 1,96,000 in 2018; and that 70 percent of the H-1B visas approved in 2018; and the bipartisan support for ties in the US.

Discussion on India's indecision to invite Huawei for 5G trials after the US urged its allies to adopt shared security and policy measures against the Chinese company is also likely to take place.

While filing his nomination papers for Rajya Sabha election from Gujarat on Tuesday, Jaishankar had said, "We will be meeting with a positive attitude... The meeting with Mike Pompeo will be an important one. We will definitely discuss issues related to trade between the two countries." "Both countries are having their own interests. And it is natural to have some conflicts because of that. We will find common ground using diplomacy. We will hold discussions with the US with a positive approach," he said.

Pompeo's visit marks the third visit to India by a Secretary of State during the Trump administration. In Japan, Trump and Modi would be joined by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for their second trilateral summit.

Updated Date: Jun 26, 2019 13:56:14 IST