India, US vow to work as friends to resolve issues
India and the US on Wednesday agreed to work through differences on trade issues and New Delhi’s arms purchases from Russia, with secretary of state Mike Pompeo adopting an “accommodative” and “very problem-solving” stance at meetings with India’s top leadership, people familiar with the developments said.
India’s concerns about US threats of sanctions on the $5.2-billion deal to procure S-400 missile defence systems from Russia, trade-related differences, tensions in the Persian Gulf, and the Indo-Pacific figured in Pompeo’s discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister S Jaishankar. Pompeo also met National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
Pompeo’s meetings with Modi and Jaishankar were “very constructive, very progressive and very problem-solving”, one of the people cited above said on condition of anonymity. The people said Pompeo referred to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s big election victory and the need for both sides to work together on outstanding issues.
“Both sides agreed to work their way through their concerns. The Indian side heard the US agenda and agreed on some issues and expressed its concerns on other issues,” said the person cited in the first instance.
Jaishankar appreciated America’s strong support for counterterrorism, especially the policy of “zero tolerance for cross-border terrorism”, but said there were “some issues on which we have individual perspectives”.
The US threat of sanctions on the S-400 deal under its Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the withdrawal of export benefits under America’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) and India’s retaliatory tariffs on 29 American products have rocked a relationship that has witnessed wide-ranging convergence on strategic issues.
Though there were no concrete announcements on the issues of divergence, the visit set the stage for a bilateral meeting between Modi and US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan on June 28-29.
The Indian side cited New Delhi’s historic relationship with Moscow, especially in defence matters, and highlighted the importance of the S-400 deal for the country’s security needs, the people said. The US side agreed to work with the Indian system to address such issues.
In a joint press conference with Jaishankar after the talks, Pompeo hedged answering a question on possible US sanctions on the S-400 deal by saying the talks had focussed on trying to “plot a path forward so that we can do the right thing for both countries”. “There are issues at the moment, we will find a way to work through them and I know when we come out on the other side of each of those, the relationship will be stronger,” he added.
In a reference to the S-400 deal, Jaishankar said, “Today we operate a number of American-origin platforms and equipment and the key point here is that if that is to continue to grow, it’s important that we display trust and confidence in each other.”
The foreign minister said India will act on the basis of its national interests and “part of the strategic partnership is the ability of each country to comprehend and appreciate the national interests of the other”.
Jaishankar quoted his American counterpart while referring to efforts to address the differences. “He (Pompeo) said there’s been a lot of noise. We need to filter through the noise and get down to the basics of the relationship,” Jaishankar said, adding the two sides “must not get carried away by that noise”.
He said, “I’m pretty confident and my confidence has been reaffirmed today of our ability to address some of the outstanding issues.” Pompeo, the first foreign minister hosted by Jaishankar after his appointment last month and the first senior member of the Trump administration to visit India after the elections, said the US will ensure India has the required military capabilities to protect its territorial integrity and to confront 21st century challenges. Several military agreements and other efforts will help fulfil President Donald Trump’s commitment to share defence equipment and technology with India, he said.
During discussions on the US-Iran tensions in the Persian Gulf, Jaishankar said the Indian side emphasised the importance of “stability, predictability and affordability” of energy imports as well as New Delhi’s interests in stability in the region given the large number of Indian expatriates working there.
“On two of the biggest issues — Iran and Russia — the difference is deep,” Neelam Deo, founder of the Gateway House think tank in Mumbai, was quoted as saying by Reuters. “If there is going to be some kind of announcement on trade, it will come at a Trump-Modi meeting [in Osaka],” Deo, formerly the consul general of India in New York, said. On trade-related issues, Jaishankar said the two sides have to take a “constructive and pragmatic view”, while the Indian government is committed to making it easier to do business, provide a level playing field and strike a right balance between concerns.
Pompeo remarked the US was clear about seeking greater market access and removal of “trade barriers”, but that he had addressed these differences “in the spirit of friendship”.
Jaishankar also said that on the issue of Indo-Pacific, India had made it clear that it stood for “peace, security, stability, prosperity and rules” in the region and was “not against somebody”. Pompeo also said it was important to address economic disputes to capitalise on opportunities in the Indo-Pacific, where countries that have signed on for China’s Belt and Road Initiative projects “have found Beijing’s deals come not with strings attached but with shackles”. “These countries want infrastructure, digital connectivity and energy without relinquishing sovereignty. We together should act quickly to fulfil the ambitious vision for prosperity that is shared by President Trump and Prime Minister Modi...,” he added.