Ahead of 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 Moscow, and asserted that New Delhi cannot “wish away” its defence ties with Moscow.
Besides India’s missile defence systems deal with Russia, terrorism, H1B 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 External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his American counterpart Mike Pompeo, 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 Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan later this week.
During his visit, Pompeo will also call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Talking about Pompeo’s visit, Jaishankar in Gandhinagar said India will try to find common ground on trade issues during discussions with Pompeo.
“We will be meeting with a positive attitude,” he told reporters after filing his nomination papers for the Rajya Sabha poll from Gujarat.
“The meeting with Mike Pompeo will be an important one. We will definitely discuss issues related to trade between the two countries,” he said.
“Both the countries are having their own interests. And it is natural to have some conflicts because of that. We will find a common ground using diplomacy. We will hold discussions with the US with a positive approach,” he said.
Diplomatic sources said the entire spectrum of the relationship will be on the table for discussions.
They said the talks would be “substantive” but should be seen as a “getting to know each other” meeting, rather than one with concrete deliverables and agreements.
Diplomatic sources said combating terrorism, including cross border terrorism, is an “inescapable” topic of discussion in Indo-US talks and will be “very high” on the minds of the two ministers.
Another matter that is likely to figure high in the talks is the H-1B issue with an American official saying Pompeo will assure the Indian leadership that the Trump administration has no plans to impose a cap on issuing the highly sought-after H-1B visas.
On the issue of the situation arising out of the ending of exemptions from US sanctions to buy oil from Iran, the diplomatic sources here said a decision will be taken based on India’s energy security and commercial considerations.
The engagement with the US will continue on how it can help India get alternative supplies.
On tensions running high in the region after after Iran shot down a US spy drone last week and a possible retaliatory US strike, a diplomatic source said: “It is a matter of great concern. We will talk to Secretary Pompeo and Iranians and ask both sides to de-escalate.”
The source, however, made it clear that there was no request made to India from either side to mediate and it would take up the issue due to its concern over the safety of its diaspora and peace in the region.
Sources also said that India meets the criteria for a US sanctions waiver for procuring S-400 missile defence systems from Russia and the Trump administration has “enough flexibility” on the issue.
“We have a longstanding defence relationship with Russia which we cannot wish away,” the source said.
India inked an agreement with Russia in October last year to procure a batch of the missile systems at a cost of Rs 40,000 crore. India went ahead to seal the deal notwithstanding the US’ warnings against it.
The US is well aware of the circumstances that “compelled” India to go for a system like S-400, the source added.
The Indian side has explained the rationale very well to the US side and they are appreciative of India’s requirement, the source said.
The Indian side feels that it meets the requirements for waiver in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
With trade likely to figure prominently in their talks, sources said there has been substantial progress on this front with trade going up by double digits percentage in the last three years and trade deficit also going down by double digits under Trump presidency.
Asked about the industrial security agreement that will allow the transfer of defence technology, the diplomatic source said the Indian side has got the text from the US side subsequent to the last 2+2 meeting.
The negotiations for the agreement are at an advance stage, the source added.
The US Secretary of State will also attend a business round-table and deliver a policy speech at the India International Centre during his visit, starting Tuesday evening. He is scheduled to leave India on Thursday morning.