India will work on its national interest: Jaishankar

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar shakes hands with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a meeting, in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI photo

India on Wednesday dropped clear hints that it would not have a second thought on the S-400 deal despite the threat of a US sanction, but recognised that New Delhi and Washington need to work “harder” to resolve irritants like S-400 deal and trade issues as “the sign of mature relationship is ability to negotiate through thorny issues.”

“We have many relationships with many countries, many of them are of some standing. They have a history. We will do what is our national interest and part of the strategic partnership is the ability of each country to comprehend and appreciate national interests of the other,” External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar told journalists after his talks with the visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Though Jaishankar didn't identify the country, the obvious reference was the controversial military deal to buy five S-400 missile defence systems from Russia in a Rs 39,000 crore deal. India signed the deal last year and made necessary financial arrangements to pay Russia.

But USA had asked India to come out of the Russian deal and threatened to impose sanctions using a provisions in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act that empowers the White House to take actions against countries entering into high-value military deals with Russia, Iran and North Korea.

The first meeting between Jaishankar and Pompeo was held in the backdrop of irritants like the Russian deal, Iran oil crisis and a number of trade issues that threatened to cast a shadow on an otherwise healthy trading relation between the two countries.

Before meeting the foreign minister, the Secretary of State called on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and had an interaction with the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

“India is an important friend and partner for the USA. These are issues at the moment, but we will find a way to walk through them and when we come out on the other side, the relationship will be stronger,” Pompeo said.

“The US is committed to ensuring that India has the military capabilities it needs to defend its territorial integrity,” he added.

The two ministers agreed that differences of opinion would always be there in the bilateral relations but one has to filter through the noise to get down to the basics. “You should not be carried out by the noise,” Pompeo said.

Jaishankar asserted that it was impossible not to have trade issues with India's biggest trading partner. The two-way bilateral goods and services trade with the USA stands at $ 142 billion in 2018 – a 12.6% rise from the last year.

“But the sign of a mature relationship is your ability to negotiate the way through and find common ground. Perhaps that was not being as effective as it could and should in the recent past. Both of us leaving the meeting convinced that we need to tell our governments that they need to try harder and make sure this happens.”

“We need to take a constructive and pragmatic view of issues relating to trade. The real test of our intentions is our ability to address them effectively,” he added. 

The simmering tension in the Persian gulf figured prominently in the Indo-US talks on Wednesday with Foreign Minister S Jaishankar appraising the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about India's Iran worries. Not only 10% of India's oil import comes from Iran, but there is a diaspora of 8 million too, compounding the government anxieties. 

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