Pompeo meets Indian leaders amid trade tensions, Iran crisis

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar take part in a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 27 June 2019

Pompeo meets Indian leaders amid trade tensions, Iran crisis

  • US secretary of state describes Tehran as the world’s ‘biggest sponsor of terror’
  • Ties have also been damaged by the US threat of sanctions on India’s purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile

NEW DELHI: In a day-long meeting with the Indian leadership in New Delhi, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday held talks on various issues that had weakened bilateral relations in recent years.

This is Pompeo’s third visit to India, but the first since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landslide victory in this year’s general elections.

The visit comes as the US and India are enduring a difficult period in their relationship, with both nations engaged in a bitter dispute over trade tariffs.

Relations have been damaged further by the US threat of sanctions on India’s purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile. US sanctions on Iran and creeping instability in the Gulf have added to India’s concerns.

“Our discussion covered trade, energy and defense issues alongside investment concerns,” Subrahmanyan Jaishankar, India’s external affairs minister, said in a joint press conference with Pompeo.

“We’re guided by big pictures, and my urging was that we take pragmatic and constructive views on trade-related issues. The real test would be our intention to address that effectively,” Jaishankar added.

“The Indian government is keen to provide a level playing field to American business, to grow with the world economy and provide the right balance,” he said.

“It’s natural for the two countries to have differences over trade, and we’ll mutually try to address them effectively.”

Pompeo said: “We’re friends. We’ll work together. We can try and find a path together.”

New Delhi imposed retaliatory tariffs on 28 US items earlier this month after the Trump administration ended trade concessions for India on June 1.

On energy issues, Jaishankar said: “We had an open and frank discussion on energy, and we expressed our concerns. I underlined the importance of stability, predictability and affordability in terms of India’s energy imports.”

He told reporters that both countries discussed the situation in the Gulf, and that Pompeo knows India has “big stakes there: Energy, diaspora, business and regional stability.”

On foreign policy issues, Pompeo described Iran as the world’s “biggest sponsor of terror.”

Both leaders refused to answer specific questions on possible exemptions to New Delhi on the purchase of oil from Iran, which is facing US sanctions.

On the question of US opposition to the $5 billion deal for air defense systems between India and Russia, Jaishankar said: “We have relationships with several countries, many of which are significant. They have a history. We’ll do what’s in our national interest.”

He added: “We had a discussion on defense cooperation. It’s important to display trust and confidence in each other if we want this to grow.”

Both countries discussed China’s growing presence in the Indo-Pacific region. “Our partnership in the Indo-Pacific is for a purpose, not against somebody, and that purpose is peace, security, stability, prosperity and rules,” said Jaishankar.

“We’re looking for a landscape where a number of independent players can work together for global good.”

Pompeo said: “The US-India relationship is already reaching a height, particularly in defense cooperation, a common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and growing cooperation in energy.”

Before holding talks with Jaishankar, Pompeo met Modi and congratulated him on his electoral victory.

Harsh V. Pant of the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation told Arab News: “Pomeo’s visit is very significant and sets the tone for the future US-India relationship. It comes at a time when the relationship is passing through some difficulty.”

Pant said: “One visit can’t solve the trade problem. It’s a structural problem in many ways. Trade has always been a frustrating issue for the relationship, but it’s a very small part in the larger strategic ties between the two nations.”

He added: “The convergence between US and India is based on the larger structural reality of the regional and global balance of power. So long as both countries are mindful of that, I think the relationship can grow.”

Pant said: “Where India will have to rethink is on the issue of transnationalism. It isn’t enough for India to say its rise is good for America therefore America should help India. The US is changing, and you’ll have to respond to the changing America.”


India blocks SMS services in Kashmir after trucker killed

Updated 15 October 2019

India blocks SMS services in Kashmir after trucker killed

  • Security sources said the decision to cut text messaging services was taken to reduce the ability of militants to communicate
  • Indian authorities had only restored call and text services for mobile phones

SRINAGAR: Text messaging services were blocked in Indian Kashmir just hours after being restored when a truck driver was killed by suspected militants and his vehicle set ablaze, authorities said Tuesday.
Separately Indian officials said that a 24-year-old woman died in the latest exchange of artillery fire with Pakistan over their de-facto border dividing the blood-soaked Himalayan region.
Security sources said the decision to cut text messaging services was taken to reduce the ability of militants to communicate.
Indian authorities had only restored call and text services for mobile phones on Monday, following a 72-day blackout in the restive northern territory imposed after New Delhi scrapped the region's semi-autonomous status.
The seven million-plus people of the Kashmir Valley — the main hotbed of resistance to Indian rule — are still cut off from the Internet, however.
Authorities said SMS services were cut again on Monday night following the attack on the driver of a truck carrying apples in Shopian.
Residents said two masked gunmen told the driver to use his truck to block the road, but it skidded and got stuck.
“The gunmen then fired at the truck and set it on fire,” a witness told AFP.
Apples are a sensitive issue in Kashmir, which exports vast quantities of the fruit to markets across India.
Many orchard owners say they are refusing to harvest this year to protest against the government’s move to scrap Kashmir’s autonomy.
Indian authorities say that militants — backed by arch-rival Pakistan — have been intimidating farmers and businessmen.
The latest death from Pakistani artillery fire over the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir brings the number of fatalities on the Indian side to three in the past four days, the Press Trust of India reported.
Two Indian soldiers were killed in two separate incidents on Friday and Sunday, PTI said. It was unclear if there were any fatalities from Indian fire on the Pakistani side.
Also on Tuesday, police arrested 13 women activists in Srinagar after they staged a protest calling for civil liberties and the release of detainees.
The women, wearing black armbands, were arrested for “breaching the peace” and for a contravening a ban in place since early August on public gatherings of more than four people, police said.
They included the sister and daughter of former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, one of several hundred local politicians, lawyers and others in custody since early August, mostly without charge.
Abdullah, 81, was formally arrested in mid-September under the highly contentious Public Safety Act (PSA) that allows someone to be held for up to two years without charge, and which has been used widely in Kashmir in recent years.
Rebels have been fighting for three decades some 500,000 Indian soldiers deployed in the territory, demanding independence or to join Pakistan which also controls part of the region and, like India, claims it in full.