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India-US 2+2 dialogue depends on Pompeo’s confirmation

The 2+2 dialogue is scheduled for April 18, but Tillerson leaves office on March 31, and Pompeo cannot take charge or begin discharging duties of the office till he is confirmed, according to rules of the US government.

world Updated: Mar 14, 2018 23:20 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
President Donald Trump,Rex Tillerson,Mike Pompeo
File photo of Mike Pompeo, who was named by US President Donald Trump as the new secretary of state.(Reuters)

President Donald Trump’s firing of his top diplomat Rex Tillerson may result in the postponement of the inaugural 2+2 dialogue between India and the US if newly appointed secretary of state Mike Pompeo, one of the principals, is not confirmed in time.

The 2+2 dialogue, in which the defence and external affair ministers of both countries will simultaneously meet, is scheduled for April 18 in Washington.

Tillerson leaves office on March 31, but Pompeo cannot take charge or begin discharging duties of the office till he is confirmed, according to rules of the US government.

Bob Corker, chairman of the senate foreign relations committee that will process Pompeo, said in a statement: “As I shared with the president, the committee will consider his nomination as expeditiously as possible.”

The statement added that the committee “expects” to hold a hearing on the nomination in April. Given the calendar of the senate, a congressional aide said the hearing is likely to take place only after April 9.

As CIA director, Pompeo has already been vetted and has the requisite security clearances. But the confirmation process still involves steps that start with the White House formally sending the nomination to the senate, where it is assigned to the relevant committee.

The committee holds hearings, which could go on for a day or longer — Tillerson’s hearing lasted two days. The panel then votes to send up nomination to the full senate for discussion and vote. Pompeo’s CIA nomination was approved by 66-32 vote in the 100-member body.

US officials are looking closely at the chances of the confirmation process being wrapped up before the date of the 2+2 dialogue. “Though anything is possible... From where we are today, it looks unlikely the secretary will be confirmed by then according to our calculations,” an official said.

The 2+2 dialogue was announced last August after a phone call between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trump on the eve of the India’s Independence Day. The White House had said in a statement that the dialogue “will elevate their (the two countries’) strategic consultations”.

This new dialogue was to replace the strategic and commercial 2+2 that India and the US had been holding for two years, involving the external affairs and commerce ministries.

Until Tuesday, when Trump unceremoniously fired Tillerson and named Pompeo as his replacement, the scene was all set for the April 18 dialogue between Tillerson and defence secretary James Matties with their Indian counterparts Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman.

The inaugural dialogue was earlier expected to have taken place in New Delhi in 2017, but Mattis and Tillerson’s travel schedules didn’t work out and they were unable to be in India together — the defence secretary visited in September, followed by the secretary of state a month later.

First Published: Mar 14, 2018 22:02 IST