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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  Rex Tillerson visit: India, US may reaffirm strategic ties
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Rex Tillerson visit: India, US may reaffirm strategic ties

India, US will discuss a wide array of issues spanning the regional to the bilateral during the first visit by Rex Tillerson to New Delhi

Rex Tillerson will arrive in New Delhi on Tuesday evening after a stop in Pakistan and will hold talks in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: ReutersPremium
Rex Tillerson will arrive in New Delhi on Tuesday evening after a stop in Pakistan and will hold talks in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: India and the US will discuss a wide array of issues spanning the regional to the bilateral during the first visit by secretary of state Rex Tillerson to New Delhi in a trip that analysts see as strongly reaffirming their strategic partnership.

Tillerson is the second top-level Trump administration official to come visiting in the space of a month. He arrives in New Delhi on Tuesday evening after a stop in Pakistan and will hold talks in New Delhi on Wednesday. India had hosted US secretary of defence James Mattis on 26 September.

The top US diplomat’s stop in New Delhi follows two major foreign policy speeches from the Trump administration in recent months sketching out critical roles for India in South Asia as well as in the Indo-Pacific region.

On 21 August, US President Donald Trump in a speech outlining Washington’s reworked strategy for Afghanistan, projected a definite role for India for stabilizing the war-torn country economically.

And days before his India visit, Tillerson sketched out a crucial role for India in maintaining in stability in the Asia Pacific region—along with partners like Japan and Australia besides the US. This was against the backdrop of the unpredictable rise of China.

“China, while rising alongside India, has done so less responsibly, at times undermining the international, rules-based order even as countries like India operate within a framework that protects other nations’ sovereignty," Tillerson said in a speech to the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies last week. “We need to collaborate with India to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity – so that it does not become a region of disorder, conflict, and predatory economics," he said later.

According to Tillerson, “The Trump administration is determined to dramatically deepen ways for the United States and India to further this partnership."

“We’re going to have important relationships with China. We’ll never have the same relationship with China, a non-democratic society, that we can have with a major democracy," the US top diplomat said—an indicator of the kind of partnership that could evolve between the world’s oldest and largest democracies.

Given the tone and tenor of the two speeches, “India does not need to be worried being boxed into South Asia nor does India need to worry about re-hyphenation with Pakistan," said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.

The reference was to fears in some quarters in India that the US may revert to its earlier policy of equating India and Pakistan, or viewing the two South Asian nations through the same prism—common in the 1990s. That Tillerson is expected in India on Tuesday immediately after a stop in Pakistan had stoked apprehensions that Washington may be re-hyphenating India and Pakistan.

“It is clear from Tillerson’s speech that the US-Pakistan relationship is a transactional one and that India is the major partner of the US in South Asia," Mansingh said. “It is also clear that India is seen as a strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific region as well," he said.

Issues expected to figure in the talks between Tillerson and his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj will include China, Afghanistan, Pakistan as well as Iran besides bilateral issues like barriers to India-US trade and possible curbs on the H-1B visas that are popular with Indian IT professionals working in the US, Mansingh said.

Given that talks between the US, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan on bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table were held last week in Oman, “the situation in the Af-Pak (Afghanistan-Pakistan) region is expected to be on the (discussion) table," said a person familiar with the Tillerson visit.

New Delhi could also seek clarity on the US disavowing the Iran nuclear deal though not pulling out of it, given that India has plans to build the Chabahar port for transporting goods to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan. China will be on the agenda too, given US concerns over Beijing’s support to North Korea that has speeded up its nuclear and missile plans. India, which ended a 73-day-long standoff with China in August, seen as the most serious in two decades, would be interested in an exchange of perspectives with the US, the person cited above said.

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Published: 23 Oct 2017, 12:38 AM IST
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