U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, during her first ever visit to India as a member of the Trump cabinet, has focused on trade relations, India’s oil imports from Iran, India’s military ties with the US, among other things. In her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, June 27th, the first Indian American to be on US Cabinet, told Modi that it was important that India cut Iranian oil use, but said the United States would work to allow India to use an Iranian port as corridor to Afghanistan. India is one of the largest importers of Iran’s oil.
Haley, considered to be the most powerful Indian-American in the Trump administration, met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi June 27 to convey greetings from President Donald Trump. She also met with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Haley assured U.S. commitment to fighting terrorism, and that she saw opportunities in developing stronger ties with New Delhi in multiple ways, especially in countering terrorism and building military cooperation.
The U.S. push to curb countries’ imports of Iranian oil comes after Trump in May withdrew from a 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers aimed at stalling Tehran’s nuclear capabilities in return for the lifting of some sanctions. Trump ordered the reimposition of U.S. sanctions that were suspended under the accord.
“Sanctions are coming (on Iran) and we’re going forward on that, and with India and the U.S. building strong relationships we hoped that they would lessen their dependence on Iran,” Haley, a member of U.S. President Donald Trump’s cabinet, told the media after her meeting with Modi in New Delhi.
“There’s a will, a political will, from both sides to figure out how to make this work,” Haley said. “Prime Minister Modi very much understands where we are with Iran, he didn’t question it, he didn’t criticize it, he understood it and he also understands that (India’s) relationship with the U.S. is strong and important and needs to stay that way.”
Despite rising trade tensions between the United States and India, Haley – the daughter of Indian immigrants – said “the idea of a trade war wasn’t even an option.” Bilateral trade rose to $115 billion in 2016, but the Trump administration wants to narrow its $31 billion deficit with India, and is pressing New Delhi to ease trade barriers.
Haley said she also discussed military cooperation with Modi as the Trump administration has launched an effort to deepen military and economic ties with India as a way to balance China’s assertive posture across Asia.
Haley said the implications of Iran-related sanctions would be discussed when the foreign and defense ministers of India and the United States meet shortly. Japan and South Korea, also major buyers of Iranian oil, are in talks with the U.S. government in a bid to avoid the adverse effects of sanctions.
Haley said she also discussed with Modi the Indian-backed Chabahar port complex in Iran, being developed as part of a new transportation corridor for landlocked Afghanistan and which could open the way for millions of dollars in trade and cut Afghanistan’s dependence on neighboring Pakistan.
“In this area, the U.S. is approaching our relationship with Pakistan differently than in the past,” Haley said in a speech June 28 in New Delhi. Indo Asian News service quoted her speech on “Advancing India-U.S. Relations,” which was organized by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
“We know the port has to happen and the U.S. is going to work with India to do that,” Haley said. “We know that they’re being a great partner with us in Afghanistan and really trying to assist the U.S. and trying to do more. The port’s vital in trying to do that.”
“We realize we’re threading a needle when we do that,” said Haley, describing a balancing act of ensuring Indian use of the port in Iran while Washington is at the same time trying to once again cut Tehran off from international markets.
She said both nations have felt the pain of terrorism, both share a commitment to defeat it and the hateful ideology that motivates them. The two countries share an urgent interest to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, she said.
Modi expressed appreciation for Trump’s South Asia and Indo-Pacific strategies and commended his initiative toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. “Both the dignitaries discussed ways to enhance India-U.S. cooperation, including on counter-terrorism and in multilateral fora. They expressed confidence that strong India-U.S. partnership will continue to be an important factor for global peace and prosperity,” a government statement said.
News reports said Haley and Modi discussed ways to enhance India-U.S. cooperation in various fields. “Whether it is countering terrorism, whether it is the fact that we want to continue our democratic opportunities or start to work together more strongly on the military aspect, there are lots of things that India and the U.S. have in common,” she was quoted as saying in New Delhi.
Besides meeting officials, “Haley also visited the majestic tomb of Mughal emperor Humayun and Save Childhood Movement, a center for rescued children run by 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi,” the Associated Press wrote. At the tomb, Haley said she was in India to strengthen bilateral relations and to continue the democratic bonds.
As she hoped for a free and open Indo-Pacific and protection of sovereign nations from external coercion for peace, stability and commerce, Haley said China is a matter of concern and its failure to respect the rule of law will restrict its relations with the U.S.
“Unlike India, China does not share our commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms. This makes China’s expansion of loans and investments in countries in the region a matter of concern for many of us,” she said.