NEW DELHI: India and the US will aim to restore momentum in bilateral ties, which were hit by recent irritants on trade and crude oil purchases, when visiting US secretary of state Mike Pompeo meets his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Wednesday.
Issues such as India buying S-400 missile system from Russia, terrorism, and the growing aggressiveness of China are also expected to figure in the talks.
Pompeo arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday on a three-day visit after stops in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The visit of Pompeo, who will also meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is the highest level contact between the two nations after Modi’s government return to power for a second term. Pompeo will also meet Modi.
New Delhi is viewing the Pompeo trip as a “get to know visit", said two people familiar with the trip. There is no “structured agenda" for the Pompeo-Jaishankar meet and all issues are on the agenda, said one of the two people mentioned above.
Ties between the two countries have warmed considerably in the past two decades with both seeing eye to eye on issues such as terrorism, the rise of China, defence cooperation, and the need for a “free and open Indo-Pacific region". This is a far cry from the Cold War days when the two nations were seen to be on opposite sides. The two sides are nowadays engaged in regular military exercises and also aim to sign an industrial security agreement allowing the transfer of defence technology to India.
However, the differences have been accentuated with the Trump administration’s increased focus on trade, said Indian officials. The US slapping tariffs on Indian exports, objections to India capping prices of medical devices made by US firms, greater market access to American companies, and concerns over Indian demands that data generated locally be stored within the country have cast a shadow over ties.
There is a need for a “deeper conversation", better information sharing, and better understanding on the matter, said one of the two persons mentioned above.
India’s domestic compulsions have to be factored in during talks on market access, given that its economy is still developing, said the person.
India will try to find common ground on trade issues during discussions, a PTI report quoted Jaishankar as saying on the Pompeo visit in Gandhinagar. “Both the countries have their own interests. It is natural to have some conflicts because of that," he said after filing his nomination papers for a Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat.
There are also concerns whether India’s plans to buy the S-400 missile system will attract US sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. “We have a longstanding defence relationship with Russia that we cannot wish away," said one of the persons cited above, referring to the bulk of India’s defence inventory being of Russian origin. “The US is well aware of the circumstances that compelled India to go for the S-400 system," the person said, adding that the legislation was very clear under what circumstances a waiver from sanctions could be given that “India fulfils those requirements".
Another key issue expected to figure in the talks is India’s purchase of oil from Iran. Indian refiners had decided to restrict imports as they would face US sanctions, the other person said. “Ultimately, a decision on buying oil from Iran would be taken on the basis of India’s energy security requirements and national interest," the person said.
India does not aim to play a mediator’s role in reducing tensions in the Gulf region but would convey to Pompeo that it would like to see a de-escalation of tensions given that there are 8 million expatriate Indians in the region, said one person mentioned above.