As Narendra Modi gets into his second innings as Prime Minister, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is likely to visit India in June to discuss the path ahead for India-US relations.
State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said on Tuesday that “Pompeo will have a very robust discussion on a range of issues” with Indian leaders but did not say when.
According to sources in New Delhi, Pompeo was likely to visit India ahead of the June 28-29 G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, when US President Donald Trump and Modi are scheduled to meet. Pompeo would lay the groundwork for their meeting.
“India is a great ally and partner of the US,” Ortagus told reporters in Washington. The US “will work closely with Modi, as we have many times”.
After Modi led his ruling coalition to a sweeping election victory, Trump had said that he sees “great things” for India-US relations. During his phone call to congratulate Modi, the two leaders agreed to meet on the sidelines of the Osaka summit.
Despite the ties that have grown closer during Modi’s and Trump’s first terms mainly centered on the Indo-Pacific region and the subject of fighting terrorism, there are several issues on which the two differ.
One of them is Iran, which cropped up during Ortagus’ media briefing. Asked about reports that India and Iran are negotiating ways of bypassing US sanctions on oil trade, she said that Pompeo had been very clear about completely stopping it.
There would be no new exemptions after the earlier ones ended on May 2 and “the US position there remains quite firm”, she said.
India’s Ambassador in Washington, Harshvardhan Shringla, said India had completely stopped importing Iranian oil.
India’s planned purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-missile defense system is another point of difference.
The US has strongly opposed Turkey’s planned purchase of the system, leading to Ankara delaying the system’s delivery. Washington has not so far openly turned up the heat on India over the S-400 as it has on Iran oil.
Trade remains the major area of difference between the two countries, caught in the trap of Trump’s campaign to bring down the US trade deficits and his “America First” campaign.
There may be a preview of the efforts in the trade area when Pompeo is expected to address the US-India Business Council in June ahead of his likely visit to India.
Commercial opportunities could also open up as a result of the US-China trade war that India could exploit by deftly working out a compromise on trade issues.
Pompeo visited New Delhi last September for the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue. The high-level meeting of India’s Ministers of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Sushma Swaraj with him and then Defence Secretary Jim Mattis chartered the course of strategic ties between India and the US.
An area of cooperation where there has been a marked success is in fighting terrorism. The US pressured China to drop its opposition to include Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist leader Masood Azhar in the UN list of international terrorists.
He was put under UN sanctions list in May when he lost Beijing’s decade-long protection.
The US stood by India during the Pulwama terror attack claimed by the JeM, and also when India launched a retaliatory air attack on terrorist bases in Balakot, Pakistan.
Washington is also trying to build a bulwark of democracies against China’s aggressive quest for dominance in the Indo-Pacific region. Trump sees India as a potential key player in this strategy alongside Japan, Australia and other regional democracies.