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Will go by national interest: India to US on S-400 deal

PTI

New Delhi

India will go by its national interest on S-400 missile defence deal with sanctions-hit Russia, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar told his US counterpart Mike Pompeo on Thursday, even as the two sides agreed to work their way through the contentious pact as also other prickly issues, including those related to trade, to take the bilateral ties to new levels.

Holding the first high-level interaction between the two countries after return of the Modi government to power last month, Jaishankar and Pompeo also discussed the issue of energy security in the wake of the situation arising out of US sanctions on buying oil from Iran with the American side assuring New Delhi that it will ensure predictability of energy supply and Pompeo saying that the US is doing everything it can to ensure India has crude imports.

The two leaders held talks in one-on-one and delegation-level formats followed by working lunch, and resolved to deepen Indo-US cooperation in combating terrorism, including by strengthening intelligence-sharing.

Later, at a joint press interaction, Pompeo and Jaishankar admitted having divergent views on trade, but asserted that friends and large trading partners will have “issues” which can be resolved.

Hours after his meeting with Jaishankar, Pompeo also made a policy speech at an event here in which he asserted that the world is worse off when religious rights are compromised and called for speaking “strongly” in favour of religious freedom.

His remarks assume significance as they come days after the State Department, in its annual 2018 International Religious Freedom Report released last week, alleged that mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, particularly Muslims, continued in India in 2018, amid rumours that victims had “traded or killed cows for beef”.

During their talks, Jaishankar and Pompeo also discussed the US-Iran tensions in the Persian Gulf.

“We have a certain perspective on Iran. The Secretary shared with me the American concerns on Iran…For us it is important that global energy supplies remain predictable. I think that is a concern that Secretary Pompeo was very very receptive,” Jaishankar said.

On his part, Pompeo articulated American concerns over alleged State-sponsored terrorism by Iran, saying, “We also know that Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, and we know the Indian people, how they have suffered from terror around the world.”

Pompeo also said, “I think there is a shared understanding of threat and a common purpose to ensure that we can keep energy at the right prices and deter this threat – not only the threat in the narrow confines of the Middle East, but the threat that this terror regime poses to the entire world.”

On the issues of sanctions that India could face under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for going ahead with the S-400 deal and trade concerns over tariffs imposed on certain goods by both the countries, Pompeo said, “On each of those two issues, we had a chance to talk today, to try and plot a path forward so that we can do the right thing for both countries.”

“They are issues at the moment but we will find a way to work through them. And I know when we come out on the other side, the relationship will be stronger,” the US Secretary of State added.

Jaishankar, while responding to the question on the S-400 deal with Russia, said, “I think Secretary Pompeo knows and I have explained to him in some detail that we have relationships with many countries. Many of them are of some standing, they have a history.”

“I think we will do what is in our national interest. Again part of that strategic partnership is the ability of each country to comprehend and appreciate the national interest of the other country,” he said.

India inked an agreement with Russia in October last year to procure a batch of the missile defence systems at an estimated cost of Rs 40,000 crore. India went ahead to seal the deal notwithstanding the US’ warnings against it.

India believes that it meets the US waiver criteria for procuring the S-400 missile defence system from sanctions-hit Russia.

Earlier, Pompeo called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who expressed his strong commitment to achieve the full potential of bilateral relations in trade and economy, energy, defence, counter-terrorism and people- to-people contacts. He also met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

Pompeo’s visit comes ahead of a meeting between Modi and US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, later this week.

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