Pompeo at high table: Terror, trade top agenda of talks with PM, Jaishankar

Terrorism, Afghanistan, the Indo-Pacific, Iran, trade issues, and growing bilateral defence ties will be the focus of discussions between the Indian government and visiting US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Wednesday, with India in favour of de-escalation of the Persian Gulf crisis through dialogue, according to officials aware of the developments who asked not to be named.

Secretary Pompeo is scheduled to have a pre-lunch meeting with external affairs minister S Jaishankar, followed by a lunch hosted by the latter. He will then call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi before leaving for Osaka the next day for the G20 Summit.

While much focus in the recent past has been on bilateral trade issues, both sides are committed to working out a win-win formula under the directions of PM Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump post their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the summit in Japan. Bilateral trade issues are handled by US trade representative Robert Lighthizer, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, and director of trade and manufacturing policy Peter Navarro in the White House.

The key focus of the bilateral meetings with Pompeo will be terrorism in light of the growing concern that Pakistan is not taking concrete actions to uproot terror groups targeting India and de-stabilising Afghanistan. That Pakistan has not moved on the Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attack investigations will be pointed out to Pompeo, along with the fact that Islamabad continues to shelter Indian fugitive Dawood Ibrahim.

“As far as Afghanistan is concerned, India is for an Afghan people-led, owned and controlled peace process, which is inclusive and does not undermine the political gains in the past 18 years in the form of the establishment of a constitution and a proper Afghan government,” one of the officials cited above said.

While Indian oil companies have not signed any fresh contracts with Iran, New Delhi is prepared to scour for alternative sources for its growing hydrocarbon needs in the international market, including the US, another official said.

The Modi government, however, is worried that the growing escalation between the US and Iran could lead to problems for its nine million-strong expat population in the Gulf as well as lead to disruption in its oil supplies, 60% of which come from West Asia, a third official said.

Although officials in South Block are tight-lipped about the Pompeo visit, the situation in Iran is likely to figure, with New Delhi interested in both Washington and Tehran taking de-escalatory steps to ensure peace in the region. The Modi government is also concerned over the targeting of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, and wants that the sea lanes of communication are free of any unilateral action by either side.

Officials aware of the matter said that India and the US will further strengthen their defence ties in the context of the situation in the Indo-Pacific and the Gulf regions. While a number of high-end military hardware acquisitions are in the pipeline from the Pentagon, the purchase of 24 MH60 Romeo Seahawk naval helicopters and a missile defence shield for New Delhi are on the verge of finalisation, with talks on the Indian military acquiring armed drones from the US figuring high on the agenda. A number of hardware items are also in the process, including 10 P8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, six more Apache-64 attack helicopters and the possible purchase of multi-role fighters from the US, the officials said.

“The regional security environment, including the military rise of China and its ramifications on the Indo-Pacific, will also feature in the bilateral meetings with Secretary Pompeo. Apart from this, the plan for PM Modi going for a bilateral with President Trump in Washington in September and the latter coming to India late December or early January 2020 are also on cards,” said one of the official cited above.

Navtej Sarna, former Indian ambassador to US, said, “This is an opportunity to bring the focus back to strategic issues -defence, security, counter-terrorism- which are the heart of the relationship. Modalities can also be put in place to constructively resolve trade differences and other irritants, so that the tail doesn’t wag the dog.”

First Published: Jun 25, 2019 05:28 IST

Updated: June 25, 2019 — 6:42 am