‘Modi hai toh mumkin hai’, says America’s top diplomat
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, June 14, 2019 – In a policy speech ahead of his visit to New Delhi, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has underscored the importance of advancing the “special partnership” with India.
“I truly believe that our two nations have an incredibly unique opportunity to move forward together for the good of both of our peoples, the Indo-Pacific region, and indeed the entire world”, he declared in a keynote address at the India Ideas Summit and 44th Annual Meeting of the US-India Business Council (USIBC).
The two-day summit drew over 350 Indian and American business leaders, and high-ranking government officials of the world’s oldest and largest democracies to the US Chamber of Commerce located directly across Lafayette Park from the White House.
Pompeo, who will be visiting India during a trip to the Indo-Pacific region from June 24 to 30, saw his keynote speech on ‘The US and India: An Economic Foundation for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ as “perfect timing”, a great opportunity “to talk about how to draw our two nations closer together, and to talk about big ideas”.
The nearly week-long visit begins with a stop in New Delhi, June 25-26, after which the top US diplomat heads to Sri Lanka, Japan and finally South Korea. And the visit precedes a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump during the G-20 Summit, June 28-29, in Osaka, Japan.
Pompeo told the Summit gathering that it is an “incredible privilege” to meet Prime Minister Modi again and his “new, great counterpart”, Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Referring to the popular BJP election slogan, ‘Modi hai toh mumkin hai’ in the context of ironing out trade differences, the senior American official professed, “Modi makes it possible”.
Pompeo said he was not surprised by the results of the “truly historic election” which gave the Indian leader such a huge mandate given that Modi is “a new kind of leader for the world’s most populous democracy. He is the son of a tea seller who worked his way up to governing a state (Gujarat) for 13 years and now leads one of the world’s truly emerging powers”, he told Indian and American business leaders.
“We respect India as a truly sovereign, important country with its own unique politics and its own unique strategic challenges”, he said. “We get it. We realize it’s different to deal with the likes of China and Pakistan from across the ocean than it is when they are on your borders”.
Pompeo’s upcoming visit comes in the wake of rising trade tensions between India and America: the US has terminated India’s preferential trade status under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) scheme; and the Trump administration’s pressure tactics forcing India to stop buying oil from Iran and Venezuela.
At the USIBC event on Wednesday, Pompeo said, “I’m sure, we’ll broach some tough topics too. But, as we democracies have come to know, that we work out our disagreements. We bring them to the table honestly and fairly. And we’ll probably discuss the recent decision on the GSP program” which is the largest and oldest US trade preference scheme. India was the biggest beneficiary in 2017: $5.7 billion in imports to the US was given duty-free status.
On energy, Pompeo spoke of completing the Westinghouse civil nuclear project and delivering more LNG and crude. The goal is to give India reliable, affordable, diversified energy independence so it does not have to rely on Venezuela and Iran, he stated.
On the economic front, the senior Trump administration official cited: US-India bilateral trade reached $142 billion in 2018, a seven-fold increase since 2001; over 500 American companies successfully operate in India; and the US is a market for some 20 percent of India’s exports in both goods and services. That prosperity “has helped propel Indians to every corner of the earth”, he said.
“Indian-Americans too have contributed mightily to things that happened here in the United States. We’ve watched Indians reach the heights of industry, and academia, and government”, he noted mentioning the likes of Microsoft CEO Ajay Banga and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai.
Later, in a fireside chat with Meg Gentle, president and CEO of Tellurian, Inc., Pompeo emphasized the importance of investing in human capital.
“I know all of the amazing, brilliant Indian students that come to study in our schools at Wichita State University in my hometown (Wichita, Kansas), lots of amazing people doing amazing things want to come work in places where they can go make money and be successful”, he told business leaders at the USIBC Summit. “They don’t care so much if it’s with an Indian company or an American company. They want to go out and use their skillset”.
“If we can, at the State Department, lay the foundation for that, then I’m confident the folks in this room will knock it out of the park. They will take risk, they will invest capital here and in India and we will grow both sides of the relationship”, he said.
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