Pompeo meets PM Modi, discusses key strategic issues

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during their meeting at the Prime Minister's Residence, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in New Delhi, India. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday and discussed various aspects of the bilateral relationship to strengthen the India-US strategic partnership.

Pompeo, who arrived here last night, will hold detailed discussions with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in the afternoon and have a working lunch with him.

"Working together to further deepen our strategic partnership. Secretary Pompeo called on PM Narendra Modi to exchange views on various aspects of Indo-US relationship. PM will meet President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 Osaka Summit," Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted along with pictures of the meeting.

Ahead of the strategically-important India-US talks, diplomatic sources on Tuesday said India meets the US waiver criteria for procuring the S-400 missile defence system from sanctions-hit Russia, and asserted that New Delhi cannot "wish away" its defence ties with Moscow.

Russia's most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defence system, the S-400 was first bought by China to seal a government-to-government deal with Russia in 2014.

After talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a deal for the S-400 air defence system deal, between India and Russia was made in October last year.

MUST READ: India meets conditions for US waiver on S-400: Sources

Besides India's missile defence system deal with Russia, terrorism, H-1B visas, trade and the situation arising out of US sanctions on buying oil from Iran, are likely to be discussed on Wednesday during the talks between Jaishankar and Pompeo.

MUST READ: Terror, H-1B, Iran oil to top agenda of Pompeo's meet

Jaishankar said, on Tuesday, that terrorism, Afghanistan, the Indo-Pacific, Iran, trade issues, and growing bilateral defence ties will be the focus of discussions between the Indian government and Pompeo on Wednesday.

MUST READ: Will find common ground on trade issues: Jaishankar

H-1B Visa:

The H-1B visa, popular among Indian IT professionals, is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.

"Indians have contributed under the H-1B programme to the US economy, and I think the Secretary will be able to assure the Indian leadership that we have no plans to place caps on H-1B work visas for nations that are having foreign companies store data locally," a Senior State Department official told reporters during a conference call, according to PTI.

The H-1B visa programme is the main vehicle through which US employers can sponsor skilled foreign workers for admission. The Senior State Department Official appreciated the steps India has taken to reduce its crude oil imports from Iran.

Terrorism: Even after the US repeatedly condemning Pakistan for not acting against terrorism, the issue is likely to be focused on Wednesday as India may bring up Pakistan failing to comply with the FATF norms on terror financing

In June last year, the FATF placed Pakistan on the grey list of countries whose domestic laws are considered weak to tackle the challenges of money laundering and terrorism financing.

Trade:

The Trump administration wants Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lower trade barriers and embrace fair and reciprocal trade, the United States said on Tuesday. Bilateral trade is likely to be an important topic of discussion during Pompeo talks with the Indian leadership. US companies see great opportunity in India, and increased economic openness and investment will yield mutual benefit.

Iran: 
Against the backdrop of the escalating tensions between the US and Iran, India, along with a bunch of other countries heavily dependent on the Middle Eastern country, has been caught in the crossfire. 

In May, the Trump administration had decided to not renew India's Special Reduction Exemption (SRE), temporary waivers the Trump administration has been issuing since its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and fresh impositions on the country last year, in addition to with eight countries'. The countries had received an 180-day exemption in 2018. 

"This decision is intended to bring Iran's oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue," press secretary Sarah Sanders had said in a statement back then.

India happened to be Iran’s second-biggest oil importer, making it difficult to skirt around the sanctions imposed by the US. This puts India in a spot where it is now on the lookout for oil import alternatives in view of the sanctions to meet the deficit with Indian oil companies deciding not to import more oil from Iran after the US waivers ran out on May 2. 

Pompeo's meeting:

Pompeo's talks here will be the first high-level interaction between the two countries after return of the Modi government to power last month.

Pompeo's visit comes ahead of a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Modi on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan later this week. 

 

(With inputs from PTI and Reuters)

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