NEW DELHI: India and the US got down to bringing their strategic relationship back on track with both sides agreeing that the ties were broad and deep enough to accommodate each other’s concerns and differences over issues like Russia, trade and developments in the Persian Gulf. Responding to questions with regard to potential CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions and purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia, foreign minister S Jaishankar said India would act in its national interest but also said the strength of a strategic relationship was in being able to work out areas of divergence. At the joint presser with Jaishankar, US secretary of state Michael Pompeo echoed a similar approach, saying while there were differences, there was a willingness to find a way to work through them. The stakes were high as the first high level visit from the Trump administration to engage with the new Modi government got underway. In the past 10 months, India and the US have had limited top level conversations, while differences on trade, investment and tariffs have risen to the fore. India indicated softness on trade and investment issues, but on S-400 and Russia, New Delhi remained firm. Responding to questions, Jaishankar said after the talks, “We will do what is in our national interest. We have many ties with many countries, many of them are of some standing. They have a history.” Pompeo, who arrived here after stopping in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Kabul, was plain that the US wanted to work closely with the Modi government. That view was reciprocated by PM Narendra Modi and Jaishankar. Pompeo started off by meeting Modi, who “outlined his vision for the strategic partnership… building on strong foundation of trust and shared interest”, according to a PMO readout of the meeting. Jaishankar emphasised the importance of trust. The defence relationship was “encouraging” he cautioned, but “if this is to grow, it will be important to display trust and confidence”. Pompeo emphasised more frequent interactions and the two sides have set out an initial roadmap. Modi will meet US President Donald Trump in Tokyo on Friday after the last bilateral meeting in 2017. Trump, Modi and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe will hold their next JAI trilateral meeting also in Tokyo. The US has agreed to send a trade delegation to India soon, while an Indian defence delegation is slated to travel to Washington in the coming months. Late August-September will see the second iteration of the 2+2 dialogue between Jaishankar-Rajnath Singh and Pompeo-Mark Esper in Washington, which Pompeo announced on Wednesday. Pompeo said the US was looking for greater market access and a “level playing field” for American firms in India. Jaishankar called for a “constructive and pragmatic view”, saying India was committed to making it easier to do business and strike the right balance. Though he did not elaborate, officials said this was a reference to issues of data localisation and e-commerce that is part of the India-US dissonance. On terrorism, both sides were openly on the same page. Jaishankar said India was “appreciative” of the strong support by the US on “zero tolerance” for cross-border terrorism. Pompeo said, “India’s experience of terrorism is very real, and India’s ability to fight it should be second to none” adding, the US was committed to ensuring that India “has the military equipment it needs”. Jaishankar indicated that India’s views on Iran were spelt out and said both sides gained a better understanding. “In terms of common ground, we have common ground on energy. It is important for us as the fifth largest economy in the world to have access to predictable sources of affordable energy,” he said. Pompeo admitted, “We know we need to keep that waterway open. But we also know Iran is the world’s largest sponsor of terror. And the Indian people have suffered from terror. There is a shared understanding of the threat and that we can keep the energy flowing at the right price. But we all understand the threat the terror regime poses not only to the region but to the world.”
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