Bond with India ‘unbreakable’, says US as Mike Pompeo starts visit
Around the time Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in New Delhi Tuesday night, the state department issued a stock-taking note here that described India and the United States as “natural strategic partners” that shared an “unbreakable” bond, but it also acknowledged trade differences.
“As vibrant democracies rooted in shared values, with fast-growing economies, cultures of entrepreneurship, and leadership positions on the global stage, the United States and India are natural strategic partners,” the note said, adding “natural” to “strategic partners”, which has been in use for a while.
Pompeo reached New Delhi Tuesday evening after a stopover in Afghanistan. He will call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi before meeting External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar over a working lunch on Wednesday. He will meet business leaders later and deliver a speech at the India International Center.
The two countries have found myriad ways to describe their growing relationship that have deftly defied standard definitions such as “treaty allies” or “non-treaty allies”. So governments of the day have picked their own — Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called the two countries “natural allies”, President Barack Obama called it “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century”. And they have been “major defense partners” since 2016. Now “natural strategic partners”.
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The fact-sheet went on to say, “The bond between the United States and India is unbreakable” as the title for a section on people-to-people ties; the presence of 4 million-strong community of Indian Americans; the growing number of Indians studying in the US — 196,000 in 2018; and that 70% of the H-1B visas approved in 2018; and the bipartisan support for ties in the US.
The state department document tracked the growing ties, noting that both President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are “firmly committed to accelerating the upward trajectory of this partnership”; that the two countries were “moving quickly to achieve our shared vision for a free, open, and rules-based Indo-Pacific region.
It also mentioned elevating strategic dialogue to the 2+2 level, with the next meeting to be held in Washington DC late 2019, granting India the status of Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 status that allows it license-free access to sensitive defense technology, starting trilateral dialogue with Japan and “reinvigorated” quadrilateral dialogue with Japan and Australia.
And there are problems, it acknowledged, as delicately and diplomatically possible in a note intended to be a visit-eve scene-setter. The section on growth in economic ties started by noting two-way trade in goods and services stood at $142 billion in 2018; defense sales were up to $18 billion from zero in 2008; and US crude oil sales to India were “surging”. But, it added, there was a need for “increased economic openness”.
“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.
It added: “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.”