US State Secretary arrives in Delhi; Iran, H1B visa, trade on India’s agenda

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo landed in Delhi on Tuesday for his bilateral meeting with his counterpart External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday.

According to sources, it is a “getting to know each other” kind of meeting, but the two would meet just ahead of the summit level meeting between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan on the morning of July 28.

This is the first high-level engagement of the new Modi government’s with Trump administration and comes at a time when both the countries have a lot of issues to iron out. Diplomatic sources said there is no “structured agenda” for the talks between Mike Pompeo and S Jaishankar, and the entire spectrum of the relationship will be on the table.

US sanctions to weigh on talks

The biggest area of concern for India is how to deal with US sanctions against Iran and Russia.

Diplomatic sources say India will convey to America that it stands firm on its $5 billion S-400 air-defence missile deal with Russia despite the threat of US invoking CAATSA.

“We have a longstanding defence relationship with Russia which we cannot wish away,” said the source.

“US is well aware of and appreciative of our requirements. The legislation is very clear on issues such as under what circumstances can a waiver be given under CAATSA. The US administration has enough flexibility to give a waiver to India on CATSAA sanctions on the purchase of the S-400 air defence system”, added the source.

The US Congress has passed a law that could give countries like India a waiver from the sanctions, but that is yet to be signed by President Donald Trump.

“We have eased the process and granted India Strategic Trade Authorization Tier-1 status that gives them the same license-free access to defence articles as our NATO allies, Japan, South Korea and Australia. So I think this is the time where we will be encouraging India to look at alternatives,” a State Department official had said.

The two sides are going to focus on various aspects of ties from the sphere of economic, trade, defence, terrorism and security. But, there would be no signing of agreements or deals during this visit, India Today TV has learnt.

The meeting comes a day after President Trump signed an executive order placing Iran and its leadership under harsher sanctions. While India has for now stopped its order for oil from Tehran, diplomatic sources maintain that oil imports are “commercial” decisions for companies involved. They will have to make a decision if they want to continue or not. It seems like Indian companies themselves do not want to import from Iran as it affects their relations with all other players.

“Conversation with the US continues on how it can help us get alternate supplies.

Indian interests and official decisions will be driven by its own energy security needs and national interests. These are Complicated issues that will not be resolved over one round of talks. The discussion will continue”, say sources.

India seeks solution to trade issues

Ahead of his meeting with Mike Pompeo, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday said India will meet the US Secretary of State “with a positive attitude” to find “common ground” to resolve trade issues.

“Trade issues will be discussed. We will try to find common ground. We will be meeting with a positive attitude”, said Jaishankar after filing his nomination papers for Rajya Sabha membership from Gujarat.

The two sides will discuss trade imbalance where India will impress upon the US that the trade deficit has gone down considerably since the beginning of Trump administration.

“Trade with the US has gone up and the trade deficit has reduced by double-digits in every year of the Trump Presidency. We have a good story to tell”, said a source.

H1B visa to be focus

India and the US are also likely to discuss the issue of H1B visas. While US State Department officials debunked a report which linked capping of H1B visas to the issue of data localisation as an arm twisting tactic by America, sources say these are issues that would come up for discussion.

According to State Department officials, Mike Pompeo is likely to assure the Indian leadership that the Trump administration has no plans to impose a cap on issuing the highly sought-after H-1B visas that are forcing foreign companies to store data locally. That the cap is not country-specific and a review of the visa cap is on separately.

On 5G trials

On a question regarding US objection to Huawei 5G security trials, a source said, “We have to look at our own concerns and the pulse of the domestic economy. People are excited about Industrial applications of 5G. We are open to conversations with other countries. Many countries have taken a decision on what kind of service providers they want.”

India is in conversation with countries who have gone for this technology. Sources said that India will make its own assessment

There was no word on whether if the State Department’s Religious Freedom report will figure during talks between the two leaders. The US had come out with a scathing report on India and incidents of communally flared tensions and violence in India.

Updated: June 26, 2019 — 12:02 am