U.S. keen to accelerate ties in wake of huge Modi mandate

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Underscores U.S. commitment to partnership with India

The U.S. wants to use Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s visit to New Delhi next week to capitalise on the early days of Modi 2.0 and accelerate its ties with India. However, trade concerns and India’s planned purchase of the S-400 missile shield from Russia remain problematic.

“We’re at a high point in the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership, and we think we have an unprecedented opportunity to broaden and deepen that relationship,” a Senior State Department official, who did not want to be named, told reporters on a briefing call Friday.

“And so we want to seize this moment early in his second administration to accelerate what has been the upward trajectory of our relationship and to set some ambitious goals,” the official said, referring to Prime Minister Modi having secured a strong mandate after the recent elections.

The State Department confirmed that Mr. Pompeo will hold talks with Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who was described by the official as “one of the visionaries behind the expansion of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership.”

Mr. Pompeo will also deliverer a speech on the future of the relationship in New Delhi and discuss the economics aspects of the relationship with business leaders.

“Secretary Pompeo will talk specifically with his counterpart about expanding security, energy, and space cooperation, among other things,” the official said, referring to Mr. Pompeo’s planned talks with Mr. Jaishankar.

However, considerable trade challenges between the two countries remain.

“Our companies have concerns over market access and the lack of a level playing field in important sectors, and recent Indian government measures, such as increasing tariffs on a range of products, restricting e-commerce operations, and limiting the free flow of data are particularly problematic – not just for U.S. companies, I would say, but for Indian companies and their long-term competitiveness,” the official said. “We want both of our nations to thrive.”

With regard to Iran, Mr. Pompeo is expected to discuss oil and India’s development of Iran’s Chabahar port.

“We appreciate the steps India has taken to reduce its crude oil imports from Iran,” the official said [India’s Ambassador to the United States had said that India had stopped new purchases of Iranian oil altogether once exemptions from U.S. sanctions expired in early May].

“I think India shares our concerns about the possibility of a nuclear Iran. It’s not something that contributes to regional stability. And at the same time, we’ve engaged with the Indians in a conversation as to how to preserve an exemption for the Chabahar Port…,” the official added.

With regard to India’s plans of purchasing the S-400 Triumf missile defence system from Russia, the State Department official continued to stress a common theme emanating from Washington over the last few months: do not necessarily expect a waiver.

Any waiver would have to come from the U.S. President, who has been authorised to provide one under certain conditions, such as when the country in question (India, in this case) is cooperating with the United States

“With respect to S-400, I mean, we’re urging all of our allies and partners, India included, to forego transactions with Russia that risk triggering the CAATSA sanctions.” The official said the U.S. had offered India a level of access to its military technology, not normally available to non-treaty partners, citing the example of its offer to sell India armed UAV Sea Guardians.