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Mike Pompeo to focus on defence, trade ties during visit to India

In a speech roughly etching the contours of his planned June 24 visit, Pompeo confirmed the US approval and offer of sale of high-tech defence equipment to India such as armed drones, Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) and Patriot-3.

india Updated: Jun 14, 2019 06:38 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Mike Pompeo,PM Modi,India-US ties
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) with PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi on September 06, 2018. (PTI file)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to use Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election campaign slogan — “Modi hai to mumkin hai” — to explore new frontiers of bilateral relations during his upcoming India visit during which he expects discussions on a host of issues, including trade.

In a speech roughly etching the contours of his planned June 24 visit, Pompeo confirmed the US approval and offer of sale of high-tech defence equipment to India such as armed drones, Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) and Patriot-3.

Pompeo said one of the signature contributions of Donald Trump’s administration to the India-US relations was its “far tougher stand on Pakistan’s unacceptable support for terrorism in the region” compared to the previous dispensations.

He, however, said there was plenty more the two countries could do together. “As Prime Minister Modi said in his latest campaign – he said, ‘Modi Hai to Mumkin Hai’, ‘Modi makes it possible’. I’m looking forward to exploring what’s possible between our two peoples”.

The top American diplomat’s visit to India comes amid trade tensions exacerbated by the cancellation of India’s eligibility for a special trade status that allowed it to send goods worth $6 billion in 2018 free of import duty, and difficult conversations forced by US sanctions on Iranian crude and Russian defence deals such as the S-400 missile defence system.

After underscoring the Trump administration’s “tougher” posture on Pakistan’s support for terrorism, Pompeo offered a clear and complete understanding of India’s concerns over China and Pakistan. “We respect India as a truly sovereign, important country, with its own unique politics and its own unique strategic challenges,” he said. “We get it. We realise it’s different to deal with the likes of China and Pakistan from across the ocean than it is when they are on your borders.”

There has been growing convergence between India and the US on challenges posed by China and Pakistan, and American and Indian diplomats have cited as proof the extra lengths the US went to force China to allow the UN Security Council to designate Masood Azhar, the founder-leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based terrorist outfit that claimed responsibility for the Pulwama terror attack.

But India and the US have had differences, particularly on trade, and for a long time. “I’m sure we’ll broach some tough topics too,” Pompeo said, acknowledging them in a much anticipated address at an annual summit of the US-India Business Council (USIBC), an India-specific wing of the powerful US chamber of commerce. “But as we democracies have come to know, that we work out our disagreements. We bring them to the table honestly and fairly. And we’ll probably discuss the recent decision on GSP programme.”

Secretary Pompeo was referring to the Generalized System of Preferences, a special trade status the US has granted to about 120 developing countries, allowing them to send some of their goods into the US free of import duty. India was the biggest beneficiary of the programme until it was axed by the Trump administration earlier this month for obstinate refusal to open its markets to American medical devices and dairy products.

The Trump administration is also understood to be considering other trade actions to force the issue. “I do hope, and remain open – and we remain open to dialogue, and hope that our friends in India will drop their trade barriers,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo also plans to raise the issue of data localisation stemming from a 2018 Indian decision — by the Reserve Bank of India first but to be codified by the new Parliament as part of a package — mandating digital payment services to store data on Indian consumers on servers located in India as protection against data breaches and privacy violations.

US companies and the USIBC, Pompeo’s host Wednesday, have opposed the move. “We’ll also push for free flow of data across borders, not just to help American companies, but to protect data and secure consumers’ privacy,” Pompeo said.

He added that he planned to raise the issue of 5G as well. It could not be immediately ascertained if that meant Pompeo will push India to prevent the Chinese telecom giant Huawei from its 5G network plans as has the US over concerns about the company’s independence from the Chinese government. India is set to decide soon if it will allow Huawei to participate in 5G trials ahead of an auction of spectrum.

First Published: Jun 14, 2019 05:47 IST