New Delhi: India and the US on Wednesday once again signalled a deepening of ties during talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and vice president Mike Pence on a day President Donald Trump hosted Diwali celebrations at the White House for the Indian-American community.
The Modi-Pence meeting took place in Singapore on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and the East Asia Summit. It was their second meeting.
Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said the talks between the two were “good" and “positive". On the agenda were the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific, defence, trade, restrictions on H-1B visas and counterterrorism cooperation.
“Spoke about our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific & reaffirmed our commitment to strengthen security and counterterrorism cooperation and coordination," Pence said in a Twitter post.
Pence’s office said he had encouraged “free, fair, and reciprocal trade with India". Balancing trade, which the Trump administration deems is unfairly skewed towards India, is a key area of dissonance between the two countries.
The two countries were working towards a trade deal, Trump said at the White House on Diwali and described the Indian side as “very good negotiators."
“We’re trying very hard to make better trade deals with India. But they’re very good traders. They’re very good negotiators. You would say right. The best. So we’re working. And it’s moving along," Trump said, referring to India-US trade negotiations, aimed at narrowing a $30 billion trade deficit.
According to Gokhale, “there was a sense of convergence both on bilateral issues and on global issues and we look forward to taking the relationship (forward) in the coming months and in 2019." Both Pence and Modi agreed that “in a new relationship we are building with the US where trade is expanding, we need to find ways in which we can help that process to take place," Gokhale said.
Modi pointed out to Pence that in the past two years, since Trump assumed office, US exports to India had grown by 50 % and “it is perhaps one of the countries, perhaps the only one, of the top 10 countries with which the US has a trade deficit where the deficit has actually reduced last year and is on course to further reduce this year," Gokhale said.
The two leaders also focused on energy.
“We have begun importing oil and gas from US worth about $4 billion this year. We expressed our readiness to import more oil and gas from US as a way of expanding our trade," he said.
In defence, Modi and Pence agreed that “there had been a substantial enhancement in our defence relationship, in our imports of equipment from the US," Gokhale said.
Modi had in particular stressed that there was a great opportunity for the US in India in making defence equipment given that not only was India “a substantial market but because the way we are placed regionally we can become a hub for exports to the rest of the region."
Referring to US plans to restrict the entry of Indian skilled workers into the US by cutting down on H-1B visas used by Indian IT workers, Modi told Pence that Indians when they reached the US brought along with them not only their talents to innovate and excel but also their democratic values. “In that context the Prime Minister therefore expressed the hope that this would be the approach that US might take when it looks at the whole issue of the H-1B visa," Gokhale said.
On terrorism, Pence referred to the upcoming anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai attacks and lauded the counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries.
Modi reminded Pence that in one way or another all the traces and all the leads in major global terror attacks ultimately lead to a “single source and single place of origin." Though Modi did not refer to Pakistan, it was clear which country he was pointing a finger at.
“He (Modi) did point out that the mainstreaming of people involved in the Mumbai attacks in a political process which has taken place in the recent elections in Pakistan should be a matter of serious concern not just to the two countries - India and US - but to international community," Gokhale said, referring to the Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed forming a party and contesting the 25 July elections in Pakistan.