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Tillerson to visit India, Pakistan, Afghanistan

The visit is significant in the context of President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan-centric South Asia policy, and the administration’s stated willingness to work with Pakistan “one more time.”

world Updated: Oct 14, 2017 18:26 IST
Yashwant Raj
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson had met external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj during her visit to the US on September 22.
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson had met external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj during her visit to the US on September 22.(AFP)

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson is expected to visit India for the first time in his capacity as America’s top diplomat tentatively on October 24, as part of a three-nation tour that will also take him to neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The October 24 date is tentative for now,” an official said on condition of anonymity, adding, “we are still not certain if he starts the visit in India and works his way westward to Pakistan and Afghanistan, or the other way around.”

Neither the United States nor India has announced the visit yet. “We have nothing to share on the Secretary’s travel schedule at this time,” a state department spokesperson said.

Sources in India had said Tillerson will be meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on October 24.

The visit is significant in the context of President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan-centric South Asia policy, and the administration’s stated willingness to work with Pakistan “one more time,” as laid out recently by secretary of defence James Mattis.

He told lawmakers in two back-to-back congressional hearings that the US was putting together, in consultation with allies that have committed troops to the international coalition in Afghanistan, a list of demands for Pakistan to be delivered by US officials. Tillerson, as the lead on the issue, would be the first, he had said.

Tillerson met Swaraj on the sidelines of the recent UN general assembly meetings but never in India, which he will be visiting as secretary of state for the first time.

He will be the second senior member of the Trump cabinet to visit India after Mattis, who visited in August but skipped Pakistan and went straight to Afghanistan before heading back.

These visits followed Prime Minister Modi’s trip to Washington DC for his first meeting with President Donald Trump.

Tillerson and Mattis had called on Modi in his hotel room before he had started for the White House for a one-on-one with Trump, delegation level meetings, a reception hosted by First Lady Melania Trump, followed by a working dinner.

The two leaders had shortly after announced a new two-plus-two ministerial-level dialogue to take place every year of the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries, simultaneously at the same venue. That’s hasn’t worked out yet.

There was an effort to coordinate the travel schedules of the four ministers so that they could all be in New Delhi at the same time for the inaugural session, but the US was unable to get both Mattis and Tillerson in India at the same time — around the time of Mattis’s visit, according to sources.