A high-level Indian delegation led by India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar received very positive feedback from the Trump administration during three days of meetings with high level U.S. counterparts, on issues of trade, investment and security and defense cooperation, as well as the safety of Indians living and working here.
Over the last three administrations the bilateral relationship has only grown Jaishankar noted at a wide-ranging press conference March 3, in Washington, D.C. “At the same time, the Trump administration looks at the world quite differently from its predecessor. We need to absorb that and adapt to it and look at new possibilities,” Jaishankar said. But “The sense was — we want to do more.”
There was this sense that the Trump administration had inherited a “good relationship” Jaishankar said. “India is seen as a very good, solid economic partner country with which there is strong security and foreign policy convergence,” Jaishankar added.
The Foreign Secretary’s team included India’s Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia. The delegation met Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a former businessman with interests in India, Secretary of Homeland Security General John Kelly, National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster, and Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Justin Clarke.
The delegation also met top lawmakers including House Speaker Paul Ryan, leader of the Democratic Party Nancy Pelosi, chairs of the Senate and House foreign relations committees, as well as co-chairs of the India Caucus on Capitol Hill. They also met business leaders at the U.S. India Business Council.
The killing of Indian techie Srinivas Kuchibhotla on Feb. 22, in Kansas by a white man, also came up for discussion in the high level meetings. The U.S. officials conveyed their sadness over the event but impressed upon the delegation that it was an act of an individual and that the judicial system would bring the perpetrator to justice. “We heard expressions of deep sorry, deep regret, and a sense that we should treat it as an individual act and that American society as a whole, was not that,” Jaishankar said.
The delegation discussed a range of international and regional issues like the Asia Pacific, Afghanistan, the global strategic landscape, the challenge of terrorism as well as immigration and the H1-B visa were discussed during what is seen as the first round of engaging the new administration in Washington, D.C.
“There’s a lot of good will and a lot of interest in taking the relationship forward,” Jaishankar said. “We have a strong sense of optimism and the Trump administration has a strong sense of optimism,” he said. The issue of H1-B visas was also brought up during the talks, Jaishankar said. Over the last few weeks, the fears in India and among some American companies that avail a majority of the 85,000 H1-B visas available annually, was on the Trump administration’s chopping block, have been rising.
“We conveyed the H1-B visa was a category of trade and services that actually helps the American economy,” Jaishankar said, and that if the Trump administration’s intention is to bring companies back to America, then the H1-B was important in keeping a growing America competitive, he said.
“So, H1-B is an economic issue, a trade issue,” even if for Americans it is part of the basket of immigration issues, Jaishankar said.
Commerce Secretary Teaopia said she discerned that the Trump administration did not see H1-B as a priority issue and that it would be reformed as part of the immigration issue.
Meanwhile, India was well positioned to find opportunities in President Trump’s plans to build infrastructure and manufacturing, not just in the IT sector, Teaopia said. “There is an appreciation of the acceleration of reforms (in India) and an interest in GST when it is rolled out,” among American companies, she said. The Trump administration recognizes that trade with India has grown at the rate of 9 percent annually and that reforms in Intellectual Property Rights, the conciliation and arbitration process give comfort to investors.