New Delhi: India and the US have seen dramatic changes in their relationship in the last two decades, the challenge now is how to strengthen the ties further, Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar said overnight.
In Washington on a three-day visit, the minister also said trade deals between states were not simple arithmetic but complicated as they involve many variables. He said he was confident India and the US will "find a fix" to their trade issues given the intense engagement between the two countries.
Jaishankar also said, in his meetings with key officials in Washington, he apprised the Donald Trump administration of India’s decision to purchase S-400 missile defence system from Russia that has emerged as an irritant in ties given the threat of imposition of sanctions by the US Congress.
The comments came in the course of a series of speeches and interactions with several Washington-based think tanks overnight.
At an event organized by the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum, Jaishankar said dramatic changes in relations between big countries is “not that common". “When I say dramatic change, there isn't a sector today you wouldn't say that there has been a very, very high growth rate," he added.
One reason for this was the role played by the Indian diaspora in the US, the minister said.
Referring to the historic "Howdy Modi" event in Houston on 22 September where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was joined by US President Donald Trump to address a record gathering of more than 50,000 Indian-Americans, Jaishankar noted this kind of an event would have been inconceivable 10 years ago. It reflected a future trend in the world, a flow of talent from one geography to the other, he said.
India-US ties have warmed considerably with four presidential visits since 2000, a far cry from the decades before that which saw acrimony in ties. India and the US were then seen on opposite sides of the Cold War with New Delhi seen closer to the former Soviet Union and Washington as a strong supporter of India’s arch rival Pakistan.
India now views the US as one of its key strategic partners and has bought $18 billion worth of defence equipment in little more than a decade.
‘If you look at the politics of the relationship, including security and defence, we have moved to from, actually a very difficult history, sometimes actually a hostile one, to something which today the level of comfort between the Indian and American systems as it were is enormous," he said.
"Whether it's education, whether it's talent, whether it's economy, whether it's defence, whether it's tourism, this is a relationship actually which is really on a roll. And the challenge for us is how do you actually keep up that pace, maybe even accelerate it," Jaishankar said.
On frictions between India and the US on trade, Jaishankar said given the talks between Indian commerce minister Piyush Goyal and his US counterpart Wilbur Ross, “I am hopeful that something would come out of it."
"I can't believe that people today are less ingenious than we were in our time. So I'm reasonably confident that we will find a fix," he said.
Speaking at the Atlantic Council think-tank, Jaishankar cautioned against "overstating" the economic friction between the two countries. "The numbers are still good, pretty much in every sphere. What has happened is that there is a degree of spotlight on trade and economic issues, which was not there earlier. There is a salience to those issues in the overall policy making in Washington, which was not there earlier," he said.
India seeks exemption from high duties imposed by the US on certain steel and aluminium products, resumption of export benefits to certain domestic products under the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), and greater market access for its products from sectors such as agriculture, automobile, auto components and engineering.
The US, on its part, wants greater market access for its farm and manufacturing products, dairy items and medical devices, and a cut on import duties on some products. The US has also raised concerns over the high trade deficit with India.
Separately, speaking to an audience at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jaishankar said India had made a decision to purchase the S-400 air defence missile system from Russia and this matter had been discussed with the US government. “I am reasonably convinced of the powers of my persuasion," Jaishankar said.