India and US downplay differences during Pompeo visit

Ties strained by reciprocal tariffs, Russian arms deal and US curbs on Iranian oil purchases

India and the US played down differences over trade and New Delhi's purchase of Russian missiles during a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to New Delhi on Wednesday.

Mr Pompeo held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi before meeting Foreign Minister S Jaishankar.

"Great friends are bound to have disagreements," Mr Pompeo said after the meeting with Mr Jaishankar. "The United States has been clear we seek greater market access and the removal of trade barriers."

Mr Jaishankar, a former ambassador to the US, said there was a "need to filter through the noise and get down to the basics of the relationship."

As a democracy and the dominant power in South Asia, India has been a natural partner in US efforts to contain China's growing influence. But ties have been strained by both countries increasing tariffs on each other's goods and India's decision to buy a Russian missile defence system. India's energy supply has also been affected by US sanctions on Iranian oil exports and Indian officials are seeking a renewal of the temporary US waiver granted to some nations.

Touching on India's energy needs, Mr Jaishankar said global supplies should remain stable, predictable and affordable. "I think that's a concern to which Secretary Pompeo was certainly very, very receptive. I think he understands that this is today the world's fifth largest economy, which imports 85 per cent of its energy, a large part of it from the Gulf. So I think he certainly gets ... what our interests are," he said.

Mr Pompeo said the two sides did not discuss waivers but agreed to work through the problems.

“We said we’d do our best to make sure that all the right people get in all the right places and work through these problem sets so that we can get out of this and get on with the business of growing each of our two economies,” he said.

Mr Pompeo and Mr Modi did not speak to the press after their meeting but the foreign ministry said they exchanged "views on various aspects of the Indo-US relationship".

"The prime minister expressed his strong commitment to achieve the full potential of bilateral relations in trade and economy, energy, defence, counterterrorism and people-to-people contacts," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Mr Pompeo's visit came ahead of a planned meeting between President Donald Trump and Mr Modi on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Japan later this week.

A major bone of contention between the two countries is India's planned $5.2-billion purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system. Although, Russia has long been a major arms supplier to India, the US has become India's top defence supplier in the last two years.

New Delhi's use of Russian military hardware complicates US efforts to bolster regional security co-operation to counter China. The S-400 deal could also trigger US sanctions on Russian arms purchases that are intended to put pressure on Moscow.

Mr Pompeo is scheduled to leave on Thursday for the G20 summit in Osaka after delivering a policy speech at the US embassy.

Updated: June 26, 2019 07:14 PM


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