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US official says Mike Pompeo's India visit aims to deepen ties between both countries: Here is the full text

A senior State Department official in a conference call was giving a preview of Pompeo's India visit which is the first highest level visit from a Trump administration official after Prime Minister Modi was sworn in for his second term in May.

US official says Mike Pompeo's India visit aims to deepen ties between both countries: Here is the full text

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to India next week is to deepen and broaden the bilateral relationship and to kick-start a dialogue towards the resolution of some of the key issues in trade ties, the Donald Trump administration said on Friday. Pompeo will be visiting India from June 25-27. A senior State Department official in a conference call was giving a preview of Pompeo's India visit which is the first highest level visit from a Trump administration official after Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in for his second term in May.

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Here is the full text:

MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us for this on-background conference call previewing Secretary Pompeo’s trip to India. For your situational awareness and not for reporting, the State Department official joining us today is [Senior State Department Official]. She will be referred to as Senior State Department Official.

I’ll now turn it over to [Senior State Department Official]; she has some opening remarks, and then we will open it up to questions.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you. And again, thanks for your interest in Secretary Pompeo’s upcoming trip to India. I know the Secretary and his team and myself included are excited about the trip. We’re at a high point in the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership, and we think we have an unprecedented opportunity to broaden and deepen that relationship.

I’d like to first sketch out the Secretary’s itinerary. India is part of a larger trip to the Indo-Pacific region. After New Delhi, the Secretary will fly to Osaka, Japan to support the President at the G20 summit, and then he’ll travel to the Republic of Korea to accompany the President for his meeting with President Moon Jae-in. I’m going to leave it to my colleagues at the White House to discuss those stops in more detail, but I do think it’s worth noting how much energy the Trump administration has dedicated to maintaining relationships with the Indo-Pacific democracies who, really, we see as the stewards, along with us, of a rules-based order in this vital region.

Now with respect to India, the purpose of the trip is for the Secretary to broaden and deepen our relationships in New Delhi. And while there, the Secretary is going to meet with Prime Minister Modi and his new counterpart, Minister of External Affairs Jaishankar, who’s really one of the visionaries behind the expansion of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership. Prime Minister Modi’s historic win and his sweeping mandate in recent elections offer, we believe, a unique opportunity for him to implement his vision for a strong and prosperous India that plays a leading role on the global stage. And so we want to seize this moment early in his second administration to accelerate what has been the upward trajectory of our relationship and to set some ambitious goals.

We have a solid foundation to build on. The U.S.-India partnership is grounded in a shared commitment to democratic values and the rule of law. India is a crucial partner in the Trump administration’s vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. It shares our concerns about challenges to our shared interests in the region. We’ve had extraordinary cooperation with India in the broader Indo-Pacific this past year. I’d point to the recent group sale, along with the Philippines in the South China Sea, and our reinvigorated quadrilateral dialogue with Australia and Japan, which has met four times since 2017, including just recently in Bangkok at the end of May.

We’re gearing up for the first ever tri-service military exercise with India in the Bay of Bengal later this year to increase our force interoperability. And the 2+2 architecture, which – where the secretaries of state and defence meet with their counterparts, has provided strategic direction and has already produced breakthroughs in military interoperability and high-tech trade licensing.

Secretary Pompeo will talk specifically with his counterpart about expanding security, energy, and space cooperation, among other things. He’ll also meet with Indian business leaders to discuss our vision for the economic dimension of the partnership, and he’s planning to deliver a speech on the future of the relationship to an audience in New Delhi.

Trade obviously is going to be a topic of conversation in the Secretary’s meetings. He made this clear in his speech last week in Washington. We’re pleased with the growth in bilateral energy and defence trade, and the narrowing of the trade deficit in recent years. But that’s not to say that we don’t have disagreements, but as democracies, at least we come to these disagreements honestly. Our companies have concerns over market access and the lack of a level playing field in important sectors, and recent Indian government measures, such as increasing tariffs on a range of products, restricting e-commerce operations, and limiting the free flow of data are particularly problematic – not just for U.S. companies, I would say, but for Indian companies and their long-term competitiveness. We want both of our nations to thrive. I’m certain the Secretary will convey during his visit the extraordinary potential to realize the collective strength of our economies if there’s a fair and reciprocal approach to the trade relationship.

As the Secretary mentioned in his Washington speech, we think this relationship has great potential to advance the security and prosperity of the United States and India, the Indo-Pacific region, and the world.

I’m going to stop there, and I look forward to answering your questions.

MODERATOR: Okay, let’s take a couple of questions, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And as a reminder, you may press *1 to place yourselves in a queue. And our first question comes from Shaun Tandon with AFP. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi there. Thanks for doing this call. A topic that’s obviously in the news today is Iran. I wanted to see what message, if any, the Secretary plans to send in Delhi. India, of course, has stopped – has said it’s stopped the oil imports from Iran but also has historically had good relations and wasn’t necessarily entirely supportive of the U.S. diplomacy in Iran. What’s the message that you want to send to India? What do you hope that India does, if anything?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We appreciate the steps India has taken to reduce its crude oil imports from Iran. I think India shares our concerns about a – the possibility of a nuclear Iran. It’s not something that contributes to regional stability. And at the same time, we’ve engaged with the Indians in a conversation as to how to preserve an exemption for the Chabahar Port, which allows India to continue essential humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan as well as to provide Afghanistan with economic alternatives. So I expect Iran will be on the agenda, but again, this is an area where we’ve succeeded in working well with India.

MODERATOR: Great, next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. That’s from Brian Scheid with S&P Global Platts. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, yeah, following up on that question, specifically messaging on crude oil imports, is there going to be any sort of timeframe given on when India may see some sanctions relief to continue buying Iranian crude or talk of replacements with other forms of crude, the U.S. crude being boosted to India, something along those lines?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think the administration has been very clear that this is the time to keep the pressure on Iran, and certainly with the backdrop of the last several days, to ensure that Iran understands it needs to stop its destabilizing behaviour in the region. We’ve worked closely over the course of the last several months to ensure that sufficient oil supply is available to our partners, and the U.S. for its part has dramatically increased its crude oil production and will continue to do so. And at the same time, other key suppliers have also stepped in. I think actually, crude oil prices are at their lowest over the last four and five months.

MODERATOR: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. That will come from Carol Morello, Washington Post. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. Just one follow-up on Iran: Will the Secretary ask the prime minister to reach out to the Iranians, and maybe in a similar way that Abe did, and what will he ask them – ask him to do? And also, in his talks with the Iranians, will the issue come up about the H-1B visas? There has been a lot in the Indian press about the potential for some pretty stringent caps on them for Indians. Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t comment on what the Secretary’s going to raise in his discussion with the prime minister, but obviously, our focus on keeping the pressure on Iran and welcoming India’s cooperation in that endeavour. On H-1B, we attach great importance to the U.S.-India relationship. Indians have contributed under the H-1B program to the U.S. 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. There is a broad review of the H-1B program underway, but this review is not targeted at India. It’s completely separate from our ongoing discussions with India about the importance of ensuring better trade.

MODERATOR: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: That’s from Nick Wadhams with Bloomberg News. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, [Senior State Department Official]. Could you give us an update on where things stand with the S-400 issue and the possibility that India may buy that? And also, just to follow up on trade, obviously, this is something that’s only getting more sort of strained with India right now after Washington withdrew India’s preferential trade status. Is this something that the Secretary would expect to be able to resolve on this trip? You mentioned trade earlier, but how big a role is the Secretary playing in trying to resolve tensions over trade that only seem to be getting worse by the day? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks. With respect to S-400, I mean, we’re urging all of our allies and partners, India included, to forego transactions with Russia that risk triggering the CAATSA sanctions. And this administration has taken great steps to enhance our military interoperability with India, to finalize groundbreaking enabling agreements that allow us to do more together militarily, and has also taken steps to enhance the quality and quantity of our defence technology relations. And you’ve seen the administration take the unprecedented step of offering the armed UAV Sea Guardian to India, the first non-treaty partner to be offered that high technology, and at the same time as we announced during the last 2+2 meeting in September of last year, we’ve eased the process and granted India Strategic Trade Authorization Tier-1 status that gives them the same license-free access to defence articles as our NATO allies, Japan, South Korea, and Australia. So I think this is the time where we will be encouraging India to look at alternatives.

MODERATOR: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t answer the trade.

MODERATOR: Oh.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The second part of your question on trade is the Secretary certainly is going to discuss trade, and our ambition is to be able, with the new administration of Prime Minister Modi, to make headway, to jumpstart a discussion on trade, and to move quickly to resolve what have been very longstanding differences and irritants in the bilateral relationship. And this is not something that’s going to be solved in one meeting, but being able to kickstart a serious process, a credible process, and a candid process is going to be critical.

MODERATOR: Great. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. That will come from Nike Ching with Voice of America. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Hi. Good morning. Thank you so much for the call. Just a quick housekeeping item. After Secretary’s travel to India, he’s going to Japan and Korea. Is the Assistant Secretary of State for EAP David Stilwell going to the trip to Japan and Korea? And secondly, should we expect a joint U.S.-India statement on South China Sea after the meeting? Thank you?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know. I’ll see if we can get confirmation for you of whether he’s traveling or not. And I don’t have anything to announce on a joint statement.

MODERATOR: Great. The final question, please.

QUESTION: That will come from Yashwant Raj with Hindustan Times. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this. [Senior State Department Official], you mentioned Secretary Pompeo expects to kickstart a dialogue on trade, but India and the U.S. have been talking trade for a long time now. So is this is a new process that you’re talking about that he expects to kickstart on this visit? Could you talk a little bit about the trade conversation that he expects to have? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We have been engaged in conversations on trade for a long time and certainly over the last year, year and a half, but without success and in reaching the kind of reciprocal and fair trade that this administration aspires to. And there have been developments in India, including a new amendment put forward on e-commerce and data localization that further increased concerns about whether U.S. companies, who constitute the largest source of foreign direct investment, whether or not they’re going to have a level playing field. And so you understand and appreciate, and I think the Indian government understands and appreciates, the importance this President attaches to achieving fair and reciprocal trade. And so we need to get a conversation started quickly. We have so much to gain by being able to work together. And particularly as we look at Prime Minister Modi’s agenda of increasing employment and creating jobs, this is an area where U.S. firms’ and Indian firms’ access to the U.S. market – and remember we remain the number one market for Indian exports – this is where a collaborative relationship is going to be to the benefit of both of our nations.

MODERATOR: Great. Well, thank you. This concludes today’s on-background call. Special thanks to [Senior State Department Official] for participating, and thank you all for joining us. Have a great day.