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Pompeo meets Modi amid trade tensions, Iran crisis

Updated June 26, 2019

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during their meeting at the Prime Minister's Residence in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday. — AP
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during their meeting at the Prime Minister's Residence in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday. — AP

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held meetings in India’s capital on Wednesday amid growing tensions over trade and tariffs that has strained the partners’ ties.

Pompeo called on India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday morning. India’s foreign ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said Pompeo and Modi exchanged “views on various aspects of Indo-US relationship”.

“Working together to further deepen our strategic partnership,” Kumar tweeted.

The US official then met his counterpart S. Jaishankar.

"Continuing the emphasis on high-level Indo-US exchanges, EAM [External Affairs Minister] @DrSJaishankar warm-heartedly welcomed @SecPompeo as the first US dignitary visiting India after elections," said Kumar, adding that Pompeo is the first foreign minister to be hosted by Jaishankar after assuming office.

During a joint press conference, Jaishankar said: "We have many relationships with many countries, many of them are of some standing. They have a history. We will do what is in our national interest."

Pompeo arrived in New Delhi late Tuesday after visiting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan on a trip aimed at building a global coalition to counter Iran.

His visit is the first high-level engagement between the two countries since Modi’s reelection last month. The countries call each other a strategic partner despite retaliatory tariffs they imposed on some of the other’s goods this month.

India imposed tariffs on 28 American products including walnuts and almonds on June 16 in retaliation for the U.S. ending India’s preferential trade status on June 1. The Trump administration imposed higher duties on products including aluminum and steel.

The visit also comes ahead of the scheduled meeting between President Donald Trump and Modi on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Japan later this week.

The two countries’ officials are also likely to discuss India’s plans to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense system. US has shown reservations about the deal. But still the US has become India’s top defense supplier in last two years. India’s trade with the US has also seen steady growth at $150 billion annually.

Indian officials say they have little differences with the US over political and strategic issues including on Iran, but they have cautioned the two countries need to be careful on trade and commerce.

India stopped oil purchases from Iran after the US sanctions waiver ran out in May but Indian officials have continued working out for a renewal of the waiver amid escalating tensions between the US and Iran. Indian officials say while they understand the US concerns regarding Iran, their country has taken an economic hit.

Before Pompeo’s arrival in India, hundreds of supporters of left-wing groups marched in central New Delhi to protest his visit and denounce American policies in the Middle East. They urged the Indian government not to cut off imports of oil from Iran, as the US has demanded.

Pran Sharma, a protester, said there was a “bigger game” behind “the trade war” between India and the US

“That is the invasion of Iran, for which it [US] is making preparations. How it can get cooperation from India?” he said.