Iran oil imports, trade top agenda during US Secy Mike Pompeo’s India visit

Washington: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his India visit next week will attempt to soothe increasing friction with New Delhi over trade, data flow, arms from Russia and Iran oil imports and focus on strategic ties between the two big world democracies, a senior official from the US State Department said on Friday.

“While in New Delhi, Secretary Pompeo is slated to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who’s really one of the visionaries behind the expansion of the US-India Strategic Partnership,” the senior official added.

Pompeo will arrive in New Delhi on Tuesday for talks that are aimed at laying the ground for an upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Modi later in the week at a G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan.

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He will also engage in talks with Jaishankar specifically about expanding security, energy, and space cooperation, among other things. The Secretary is further scheduled to meet Indian business leaders to discuss a vision for the economic dimension of the US-India partnership. He is also planning to address a gathering in New Delhi, the official said.

India is currently engaged in disputes with the United States over tariffs, hence trade is obviously going to be a major topic of discussion in his meetings.

“We want both of our nations to thrive. I’m certain that the Secretary will convey during his visit the extraordinary potential to realise the collective strength of our economies if there’s a fair and reciprocal approach to the trade relationship,” the senior official told reporters.

Another issue that has alarmed India is the possibility of the US restrictions on work visas for Indian professionals in retaliation for New Delhi’s insistence on local data storage by big foreign firms, to which the official assured that Washington has no such plans.

“Indians have contributed under the H-1B program to the US economy, and I think the Secretary will be able to assure the Indian leadership that we have no plans to place caps on H-1B work visas for nations that are having foreign companies store data locally,” the official noted.

In addition, new tensions have spiked over New Delhi’s plans to buy S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Moscow, a move that can trigger Washington to impose sanctions under its Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), further prohibiting any engagement with Russia’s defence sector.

“With respect to S-400, we’re urging all of our allies and partners, India included, foregoing transactions with Russia that risk triggering the CAATSA sanctions. I think this is the time where we will be encouraging India to look at alternatives (S-400),” the official added.

A major discussion on Iran sanctions is expected to top the table during the visit, along with India’s concerns on energy security, the official said.

“We’ve engaged with the Indians in a conversation as to how to preserve an exemption for the Chabahar Port, which allows India to continue essential humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan as well as to provide Afghanistan with economic alternatives. So I expect Iran will be on the agenda, but again, this is an area where we’ve succeeded in working well with India,” the official concluded.

The official finally noted that both the US and India are gearing up for the first ever tri-service military exercise with India in the Bay of Bengal later this year to increase the force interoperability followed by another 2+2 dialogue.

Pompeo will visit India from June 25-27, the first high-level engagement between India and the United States after NDA’s return to power for a second term.


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