US secretary of state Rex Tillerson shakes hands with foreign secretary S Jaishankar at the State Department in Washington.(AP Photo)
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson shakes hands with foreign secretary S Jaishankar at the State Department in Washington.(AP Photo)

H1-B visa issue: ‘Degree of understanding’ with US, says foreign secy Jaishankar

Foreign secretary S Jaishankar said India has conveyed to the Donald Trump administration that Delhi’s partnership is important for the growing American economy to stay competitive.
By Yashwant Raj | Hindustan Times, Washington, Washington
UPDATED ON MAR 15, 2017 07:48 AM IST

After an intense first round of talks, which included the vexed issue of H-1B temporary visa, currently the biggest concern for New Delhi, and the Kansas shooting, the Indian delegation found the new Trump administration had a “very positive view of India”.

“Overall, our sense was that the (US) administration has a very positive view of the relationship and a very positive view of India,” foreign secretary S Jaishankar, who led the Indian delegation, told reporters on Friday after the talks.

“It is natural that any new administration that comes in, takes stock of the progress made, sets new targets and bigger ambitions,” he said. And fixing them is the task that lies ahead for the two sides.

On H-1B, the team, which included Indian commerce secretary Rita Teaotia, told Americans the temporary visa scheme, which is in the crosshairs of several Trump officials including the president himself, will “actually help the American economy to be more competitive”, especially as, and when, the administration brings American companies home. Did it carry? They were met with “a degree of understanding”, Jaishankar said.

The Trump administration urged the Indian delegation in these meetings, and at the highest level in the cabinet, to treat the killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian aviation engineer, in a case of hate-crime in Olathe, Kansas, last week as an “act by an individual” and that the “American justice system was at work” and the arrested perpetrator would be brought to justice.

These were the very first meetings between India and US after the new administration took office in mid-January. The earlier meetings, with Vice-President Mike Pence and the then NSA Michael Flynn, had occurred during the transition period. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Turmp have also spoken twice over phone but haven’t met.

When asked about the possibility of an early meeting, officials said there were standing invitations for visits from both the leaders, but they had no dates or announcements to make.

The visiting Indians met three members of the Trump cabinet: secretary of state Rex Tillerson, homeland security secretary John Kelly and commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, besides National Security Adviser HR McMaster and deputy assistant to the president on international economic affairs Kenneth Juster, who is also Trump’s emissary to global groups such as G-7 and G-20, of which India is a member and which meets next in July.

The team also had extensive meetings on Capitol Hill, home to US federal legislature, which, Jaishankar said, has been “extraordinarily supportive” of India.

There was a need to engage them in view of the “changed political climate”—Republicans in charge of both Congress and the White House now, different from the last time Indians had courted the Hill in a big way when Modi addressed a joint session last summer.

The delegation also met House speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, leaders of foreign relations committees of both chambers and of the India caucus.

“We saw a lot of goodwill, a lot of interest in the relationship going forward,” Shankar said, about the team’s meetings with the new administration officials and on the Hill.

The two sides discussed a range of issues, starting with the Indian officials, who had been at it longer purely by being there first, bringing their counterpart up to speed on “the progress in India-US relations in last many years”.

The subject of discussion depended on who they were meeting. With Tillerson, they discussed a range of international issues from Asia-Pacific (read China), Afghanistan and Pakistan (often called AfPak) and the Middle East.

With Commerce secretary Ross, who has intimate knowledge of the Indian business environment as the founder of International Automotive Component Group, a vehicle interior specialist with investments in India, they talked bilateral trade and economic cooperation.

With homeland security secretary Kelly, the topic was immigration and welfare of Indian Americans and the Indian community, especially in the context of the killing of Kuchibhotla last week in a case of alleged hate crime.

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