India central to US policy in Pacific, Pompeo tells lawmakers

India needs to be central to what the Trump administration does in South and Central Asia, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the lawmakers, asserting that India “ought to be” one of America’s closet partners. India is “central’ to US policy in the Pacific and the region and it “ought to be one of our closest partners”, secretary of state Mike Pompeo told lawmakers at a Senate hearing on Thursday last week.

“They ought to be one of our closest partners,” Pompeo said, in what were possibly his first remarks on India after taking over as secretary of state in late April. “We ought to be doing everything we can to make sure we achieve that.”

“For scores of reasons, India needs to be central to what we do. Specific issues — South Central Asia issues, Southeast Asia issues. They ought to be one of our closest partners and we ought to do everything we can to make sure that we achieve that,” he told the member ..

Pompeo also spoke about the upcoming 2+2 joint meeting of the defense and foreign affairs ministers of the two countries, which he said was “very, very important”. No dates have been announced yet for the meeting. Pompeo responded that, “Defense Secretary (James) Mattis and I will jointly meet with our Indian counterparts in a dialogue that the two countries have had. I don’t know that the date’s been set but we’re looking to do it. I think it’s set this summer, very important.”

Pompeo and Mattis are expected to host their Indian counterparts — External affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman — some time this summer for the inaugural 2+2 dialogue.

The decision about this was taken when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was hosted by President Donald Trump at the White House on June 26 last year.
Pompeo also urged the Senate to grant waiver powers from Russia-related sanctions under the Combatting America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for countries that were intended to be hurt by it. That law sanctions “significant” transactions with designated Russian entities by third parties, and could impact India’s plans to buy Russian S-400 missile defence system.

Pompeo also sought a “waiver” from Russia-related sanctions for some countries without naming them. Defense secretary James Mattis had named India and Vietnam at a recent hearing of his own. Pompeo told the US House of Representatives on Wednesday that he supported that request. He had made the same request to the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The US-India relationship enjoys bipartisan support in the US Congress.  Last week, a top US State Department official said the Trump administration supports India’s emergence as a leading global power and as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region.  “The US-India partnership is rooted in shared democratic values and a commitment to a rules-based order. We support India’s emergence as a leading global power and as a key partner in our efforts to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is a region of peace, stability and growing prosperity,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert had said.

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