Tillerson Meets Modi, Swaraj; discusses H1 visa, terrorism, trade, technology, Indo-Pacific

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Modi Oct. 25 in New Delhi. Photo courtesy MEA)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on his first visit to India as a cabinet member, discussed expanding and solidifying U.S.-India security and strategic cooperation in various regions of the world, including North Korea, as well as in trade, economic development, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his meeting with Tillerson, praised Washington for the upward trajectory of bilateral relations between the two democracies and shared the resolve “on taking further steps in the direction of accelerating and strengthening the content, pace and scope of the bilateral engagement,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a statement reported by Indo Asian News Service.

While in New Delhi, Tillerson continued exhorting Pakistan for harboring terrorist groups within its borders. “There are too many terrorist organizations that find a safe place in Pakistan from which to conduct their operations and attacks against other countries,” Tillerson said at a joint press conference with Swaraj, according to the video available on the MEA website. These terrorist groups threatened Pakistan’s own stability, he added, reiterating what he had said in a major foreign policy speech before embarking on his tour to several countries including India and Pakistan.

U.S. Secretary of State met India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Oct. 25 in New Delhi. (Photo Pushkar Vyas, courtesy MEA)

At the same media interaction, Swaraj said she had broached Tilleron about New Delhi’s embassy in North Korea serving as a conduit for Washington to conduct any exchange with Pyongyang. Tillerson, she said appreciated the suggestion. Washington has placed new and stiffer trade sanctions against entities and countries conducting trade with North Korea.

Swaraj told media New Delhi had greatly reduced trade with North Korea to a “minimal” level and that the Embassy had a “very small” presence in that country. Tillerson and she “frankly discussed” North Korea, Swaraj said, and on the embassy, “I said to Secretary Tillerson that we should maintain that, so that U.S. could conduct (any talks) and know that there is a friendly country there which could be a conduit,” Swaraj said in Hindi. “Secretary Tillerson expressed appreciation for that,” she added.

On H1-B visas that concern hundreds of thousands of IT professionals in the U.S., Swaraj said New Delhi was pursuing the matter on both the administrative and legislative front with the United States, but noted, “Till now there has been no (new) development on H1-B.” She conceded that if certain bills making their way through Congress, were passed, it would negatively affect Indian H1-B visa holders. She has reiterated those concerns at various occasions, Swaraj said, adding she had told Tillerson that “between two such close friendly countries, professionals should not feel unwelcome (endangered). “We are working with Congress and the White House on this,” Swaraj said, and those were the only way to proceed.

During his meeting with Modi “They affirmed that a strengthened India-US partnership is not just of mutual benefit to both countries, but has significant positive impact on the prospects for regional and global stability and prosperity,” the PMO said in its statement reported by Indo Asian News Service.

Both Tillerson and Swaraj noted the recent first shipment of U.S. crude oil to India, in the last 40 years,

Modi noted the common objectives shared by the United States and India, to eradicate terrorism and the infrastructure that supports groups carrying out heinous acts, as well as bringing peace to Afghanistan. The two also discussed Tillerson’s meetings in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the PMO statement said.

During his Pakistan visit immediately prior to landing in New Delhi, Tillerson reiterated President Trump’s warnings about facing the consequences of what Washington saw as inadequate efforts by Islamabad to fight the scourge of terror groups operating from within its borders. The Prime Minister of Pakistan assured Tillerson his country would cooperate in anti-terror efforts.

“The U.S. can rest assured that we are strategic partners in the war against terror and that today, Pakistan is fighting the largest war in the world against terror,” Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told Tillerson, in statements before the closed-door talks began, The Washington Post reported.

Tillerson’s India sojourn appeared in marked contrast to his time in Pakistan, according to The Washington Post. “Tillerson’s warm welcome in India – where he toured a memorial to revered freedom leader Mohandas Gandhi – was a contrast to the chilly reception he had received in Pakistan’s capital the day before. There, one prominent politician said Tillerson was “acting like a viceroy,” a reference to leaders of the British Raj,” the Post reported.

In New Delhi, Tillerson said he had outlined “certain expectations” as well as “mechanisms of cooperation” during his meeting with Pakistan’s interim prime minister and intelligence and army officials on the issue of providing “safe havens” to terrorists.

Swaraj noted the recent devastating attacks in Afghanistan calling them proof of Pakistan’s safe havens, and said she conveyed India’s extreme concern over the situation. “Any stare that gives succour to terrorists should be prevented from doing so (rough translation) and should be held accountable,” Swaraj said, adding, “We believe Pakistan should act immediately” against terrorism.

 

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