Resolving to take their bilateral relations to new heights, India and the US on Wednesday vowed to work as “friends” to address the “outstanding issues” related to trade and S-400 missile defense system deal and strengthen their ties in diverse areas, including defense and fight against terrorism.
During the talks between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo here, the Indian side also shared its concern over escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf, while underlining the need for stability required for meeting its energy needs and ensuring safety of its diaspora there.
The two leaders discussed India’s deal with Russia for procurement of five S-400 missile defence systems which the US wants to be scrapped, with Jaishankar making it clear to Pompeo that the Modi government will take a decision which is the country’s interest.
The talks between Jaishankar and Pompeo, which marks the first high-level contact between the two sides in Modi government’s second term, set the stage for a meeting between the Indian Prime Minister and US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of G-20 Summit in Japan’s Osaka.
In a joint interaction with the media after the talks, Pompeo referred to the “strides” made in the bilateral relations in the recent decades and expressed confidence that the two sides will build the ties further.
Describing the opportunity as “historic”, he said the two countries will work, not only in the bilateral context but also as “friends who can help each other around the world”.
“The US-India relations are already beginning to reach new heights,” he said and cited cooperation in various fields like defence, energy, space and Indo-Pacific region as examples.
Replying to a question on trade disputes and S-400 issue, Pompeo said these matters were discussed during his meeting with Jaishankar.
“Great friends are bound to have disagreements. We are friends and we will work together” to resolve these, he added.
He said the two sides discussed issues like greater market access in the “spirit of friendship” and hoped for good outcomes for which “we will keep working”.
“We have to get the economic piece right because because there are millions of opportunities in this relationship,” the Secretary of State said, adding “When 1.7 billion people come together, we can do great things.”
He said the two sides discussed the “path forward” to address these issues.
Underlining both countries should work to provide security to each other, Pompeo said, “we want flourishing economic relations” wherein the FDI can flow freely into each other’s country.
“We see this as an opportunity. The US is an important partner for India. India is an important friend and partner for the US. We will find a way through them (issues) ,” he added.
Jaishankar added: “If you trade with somebody, particularly the largest trading partner, it is impossible not to have issues. But the maturity is to work through these and reach a common ground.”
He said that level of understanding has not been reached yet and “both of us leave this meeting to tell our respective governments to work harder to resolve this issue”.
The External Affairs Minister said he was “pretty confident” that the outstanding issues would be resolved and that his confidence had been “reaffirmed” after his talks with Pompeo.
On the issue of tensions between the US and Iran, Jaishankar said: “I, obviously, shared with the Secretary our concerns.”
He said besides the energy security, India’s concerns relate to its large diaspora present in the Gulf region, regional stability and trade.
“We have a perspective on Iran. The Secretary (of State) shared his concerns on Iran. Frankly, both of us came out much more informed on that,” the External Affairs Minister said.
He said India and the US have a “common ground” in the context of ensuring that global energy supply should remain predictable and affordable.
“India is the world’s 5th largest economy and 85 per cent of its energy requirements are imported, large part of it from the Gulf,” Jaishankar underscored.
He said India has deployed its “capabilities” in the Persian Gulf to secure its interests and for the larger good of the region. He was referring to deployment of two warships by India in the region in the wake of attacks on two ships in the Gulf of Oman recently.
Pompeo also stressed the need for keeping the waterways passing along Iran open for international navigation.
The US Secretary of State described Iran as the “world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism” and said he shared with Jaishankar his perspective of the threat emanating from the Persian country, not in the “narrow confines of the region but the whole world.”
Asked whether the US would revert to granting of waiver to Indian companies to import oil from Iran which was ended in May, Pompeo said: “We didn’t discuss lifting of that but we agreed we will do that as we go ahead in addressing the problem of terrorism.”