Tillerson may visit India, Pak together

Tillerson may visit India, Pak together

The US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, may visit New Delhi later this month – along with his tour to Islamabad.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is keen to host the US Secretary of State to keep up the momentum of engagements with the American President Donald Trump's administration in Washington. What however has put New Delhi at unease is the proposal for clubbing Tillerson's visits to India and Pakistan.

New Delhi conveyed to Washington DC that it would prefer a standalone visit by US Secretary of State to India, although it might not insist much on this, sources told the DH.

Raveesh Kumar, official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs did not confirm the proposed visit of the US Secretary of State to India, but said that the foreign offices of both the countries had been in touch with each other on proposals of “high-level visits”.

He, however, played down New Delhi's unease over the US proposal of clubbing Tillerson's visits to both Islamabad and New Delhi together.

“We feel that India-US bilateral relations are very comprehensive and stands on their own merits and both the countries do not look at their relations through the prism of any third country,” said Kumar.

James Mattis, US Secretary of Defence, came on a standalone visit to New Delhi last month. He was the first member of Trump's Cabinet to visit India.

Mattis, according to the sources, told his counterpart Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman that he had not clubbed his visit to New Delhi with one to Islamabad in order to underline the importance that Trump Administration had attached to US-India relations.

Tillerson is likely to visit Islamabad later this month to meet Pakistani Foreign Minister Khwaja Muhammad Asif. His is going to be the first high-level visit from Washington to Islamabad after Trump's new policy on Afghanistan and rest of South Asia upset Pakistan.

Trump on August 22 unveiled his new policy for South Asia. He criticized Pakistan's policy of providing “safe havens to terrorist organisations” operating in Afghanistan. He also called for greater role of India in Afghanistan, thus making Pakistan's Government and its all-powerful Army jittery.

Tillerson, however, later had a meeting with Asif in Washington and sought to smooth the ruffled feathers of Pakistan. He said in a joint news conference with Asif that the US-Pakistan relations were very important and Pakistan was critical for long-term stability of South Asia.

Ahead of Tillerson's visit to Islamabad, Alice Wells, the US acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, and Lisa Curtis, Deputy Assistant to the American President and Senior Director for South and Central Asia at the US National Security Council, are visiting Pakistan.

Swaraj met Tillerson in New York last month. Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have their second meeting next month, on the sideline of the East Asia Summit in Manila. They had first met during Modi's visit to Washington DC in June. Trump's daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump is likely to lead the US delegation to Global Entrepreneurship Summit being held in Hyderabad next month.

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