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Modi visit will advance fight on terror, Tillerson tells Jaishankar

By Lalit K Jha
June 24, 2017 11:16 IST
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Washington visit would strengthen the Indo-US relationship and help advance the common interest in fighting terrorism and promoting economic growth, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar in Washington, DC.

Image: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson greets Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar before their bilateral meeting at the US Department of State in Washington, DC, on June 23, 2017. Photograph: State Department photo/ Public Domain.

Secretary Tillerson met with Foreign Secretary Jaishankar on Friday to discuss the US-India relationship and the agenda for Prime Minister Modi's meetings at the White House on June 26, a State Department spokesman said told PTI.

"The secretary noted the prime minister's visit will strengthen ties between the United States and India and advance our common interest in fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth and prosperity, and expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region," the spokesperson said.

The two agreed that the two countries have a deep and growing strategic partnership and hope to work more closely on regional and global issues, the official said in response to a question.

Jaishankar also met other senior officials at the State Department

Jaishankar, a former Indian ambassador to the US, has been playing a leading role in shaping the India-US relationship under the Modi government.

Modi's US visit begins on June 25.

He will be meeting President Donald Trump for the first time on June 26 in Washington.

Civil nuclear deal will be discussed

The civil nuclear deal would be part of the discussions between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump, the White House has said, emphasising that the US was looking forward to its nuclear reactors contributing to India's energy security.

"In terms of the actual deals, the US is still looking forward to US-built nuclear reactors contributing to India's energy security. We think that this civil nuclear partnership will bolster India's energy security, create jobs and trade opportunities for the American people.

"So we're still very much interested in seeing this deal move forward," a senior administration official told reporters ahead of PM Modi's visit to the US next week.

"I think Westinghouse stands behind the viability of the project, and it presented it in its technical commercial offer to India.

"So we very much support continued negotiations between Westinghouse and its Indian partners, recognising that deals on this scale can take time," the official said, acknowledging that this is a very complicated issue.

"This will be part of the discussion. It's the White House Energy Week, so civil nuclear energy cooperation is bound to come up," the official said in response to a question and dismissed reports that it has been suspended.

"I wouldn't characterise the civil nuclear deal that was completed now nine years ago as being suspended or it's done. That waiver was provided for India. The Nuclear Suppliers Group agreed to a waiver for India to receive civil nuclear technology and fuel. So that's completed," said the official.

Meanwhile, a senior White House official preparing for PM Modi's maiden meeting with Trump, said that the US president is well aware of India's economy and strategic potential.

He said that Trump has already visited Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, in his capacity as a real estate tycoon.

"He has visited India. I think Mumbai, he's been to Mumbai," he said.

"As you know, during the campaign he was very much in touch with the Indian-American community. He expressed a very positive feeling toward India.

"I think he said that if he were to be elected, India would find a true friend in the White House," said the official.

"He (Trump) is not new to India. He has understood their contribution to the US economy, everything that's happening in Silicon Valley, for example. Indian Americans have really embraced the innovation and entrepreneurship. So there's a lot of synergies and linkages between the US and India in this particular realm," the official said.

Noting that Indian-Americans have founded 15 per cent of Silicon Valley startups alone, the official said that as a businessman, India is not new for him (Trump).

"He has been acquainted with India. This will offer an opportunity to really deepen the strategic partnership and his strategic understanding of India," he said.

According to the official, the preparations for Modi's trip started long ago.

"There's been a lot of preparatory work done. There has been a great deal of preparation to make this a really memorable visit," the official said adding that both sides recognise the importance of the US-India partnership.

"There are a lot of things that the two countries need to do together in terms of promoting security and stability. There's a lot they have to do that is in their mutual interests," the official said adding that the administration has been working with inter-agency when it comes to the US-India partnership.

"There have been a tremendous amount of preparation, and we're looking forward to a really good visit," he added.

1st face-to-face meeting will give them a chance to assess ties: envoy

The first face-to-face meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump will give them an opportunity to look at the entire gamut of Indo-US engagement and to exchange views on issues of global interest, India's envoy in Washington, DC, has said.

At the invitation of Trump, the prime minister would spend several hours with the US President at the White House on Monday afternoon, which would end with a dinner later that night.

This would be the first working dinner being hosted by Trump for a foreign leader at the White House.

"I think that just shows the amount of care that has gone in on the part of the White House to welcome our prime minister and the kind of planning that has gone into make this a very special visit," Indian Ambassador to the US Navtej Sarna told PTI on the eve of Prime Minister Modi's visit.

"This (dinner) is a special gesture and it is appreciated," he said.

"I think the first face-to-face meeting will allow the two leaders an opportunity to look at the entire India-US engagement and also to exchange views on issues of global interest," Sarna said.

Responding to a question on the agenda of the two leaders, Sarna said he would not like to guess what they would be discussing.

"But when they sit across the table and they have a one-on-one discussion or they have an extended delegation that will talk, I would presume that they would cover the wide gamut of relations between India and the US, which is a verystrong, strategic partnership, issues between the engagement of two largest democracies, the engagement of two very vibrant economies with tremendous potential for engagement for mutual growths" in the military, security and science and technology sectors, he said.

Any of these and issues of global interests, the challenges that the world is facing today, could come up for discussion, he said.

"But as I said, it would be very much up to the leaders to decide what to talk about," the Indian envoy said.

Sarna said it was a very significant trip because this will be the first face-to-face meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Trump.

"They have, of course, spoken three times on the telephone. They've had very good, constructive and warm conversations," he said.

Ties with India, Pak not a zero-sum game: WH

Asserting that the US' ties with India and Pakistan were not a 'zero-sum game', the White House has said that the Trump administration's priorities and the nature of relationship with the two countries were different.

"We seek to have an effective partnership with each country. With India, we're building that strategic partnership. We see India's role and influence growing. We like to encourage that trend. So, we're looking for ways to cooperate on our mutual interests," a senior administration official told reporters at a news conference in Washington, DC.

"With Pakistan, we seek to have a productive partnership working together. But frankly, the priorities are different, and the nature of the relationships are different. So, I think that we would like to move forward with both countries.

"We realise that the pace and scope of that relationship is going to be different in each case," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity said in response to a question on concerns in Pakistan with regard to increasing ties with India.

The relationship with India and Pakistan is not a zero-sum game, he said.

"I want to make the point here that US relationships with India and Pakistan really stand on their own merits and terms. We don't see a zero-sum relationship when it comes to the US relationship with Pakistan and the US relationship with India.

"We're certainly eager to deepen the strategic partnership with India," he said.

"We are also interested in continuing our cooperation with Pakistan," the official said adding that the US is concerned about tensions between India and Pakistan.

He said the US would like to see the normalisation of relations between the two countries.

"We believe it's in both countries' interests. It's in the interests of the region, and even the globe, given that they're both nuclear-weapon powers," the official said.

"But we very much encourage India and Pakistan to engage in a direct bilateral dialogue aimed at reducing those tensions," the official said while denying reports that sale of high-tech defence items to India would have any adverse impact on Pakistan.

"The US also has a defence partnership with Pakistan. We do cooperate with Pakistan on some security and defence and counter terrorism issues. So again, we don't see this as a zero-sum game," the official said.

"We see this as the US and India having mutual security interests that they want to advance, and we believe that the defence sales that are being discussed will help advance those. It is not about Pakistan.

"The defence deals -- we do take into account the regional situation. We very much want to avoid a situation that escalates tensions between the two," he said.

"So these issues are taken into account. But some of the defence systems that we're talking about we don't believe impact Pakistan. They may be different systems than we are transferring to Pakistan, but we don't believe they represent a threat to Pakistan," said the White House official.

'India, US have common objective in Afghanistan'

Meanwhile, a senior Trump official on Friday said that India and the US have a common objective in Afghanistan, and the two countries could increase their cooperation to enhance the Afghan economy.

"India has played a positive role in Afghanistan, the US believes. They have pledged over USD 3 billion in assistance to Afghanistan. The Afghans appreciate the kind of support and assistance that the Indians have provided -- I'm not just talking about the government, I'm talking about the population," the official told reporters.

"When they've done polling, there's a very positive feeling toward India and the kind of assistance -- they've assisted in the education sector, the health sector. They built the parliament building. They support democracy, democratic development there," he said, listing out the developmental activities by India in the war-torn country.

"So I think this administration's opinion is that India has played a helpful role in Afghanistan in helping to stabilise that country, helping to strengthen the government in its fight against the Taliban insurgency.

"That's the kind of role that the US would like to encourage and perhaps maybe even cooperate in terms of development projects," the official said on condition of anonymity.

As such, "this is an area that the two can increase their coordination and their consultation," the official said.

"Of course, the US has major assistance programmes to Afghanistan as well. So I think this is an area where I think they can expand that dialogue on what they can do to help the economy, help Afghanistan become more self-sufficiently financially.

"Ultimately, that's the ultimate goal," the White House official said.

"We have that mutual goal, and you'll see more consultations on that moving forward," he added.

The Trump administration is currently doing a review of its Afghan policy.

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Lalit K Jha
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