By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th June 18
Nikki Haley, America’s envoy to the United Nations and reputedly a confidant of President Donald Trump, stated in New Delhi on Thursday that the last minute postponement of a high-level US-India meeting did not reflect any tensions or disagreements in the relationship between the two countries.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo had called up Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to postpone a “two-plus-two” meeting on unspecified grounds. The meeting, scheduled for July 6 in Washington, was between Pompeo, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
“The delay in that meeting was completely unrelated to India. The time and location are being rescheduled now. It will happen very soon. This is an important sign of how much our defence and security has grown in recent years; a new level of strategic confidence in our partnership”, said Haley.
This is the second time the “two-plus-two” meeting has been postponed. Originally planned for April, it was put off after Trump fired then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in March and his successor, Pompeo, had to be confirmed by the US Congress before assuming office.
Hailing the two-plus-two dialogue as “a new milestone”, Haley said, “[The US-India] relationship is stronger now, and the opportunities greater now than they have ever been.”
Pressing the right buttons on Pakistan, Haley said the Trump administration values Pakistan as a partner, but it would never tolerate that country becoming a haven for terrorists.”
Haley took a swipe at China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), saying that project disrespected countries’ sovereign rights.
She contrasted that with India’s vision for free trade in the Indo-Pacific, hailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s allusion to this in his speech on June 1 at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
Downplaying trade disagreements as “growing pains”, Haley pointing to the doubling of trade volumes over recent years. “The fact that we’re talking about trade is a good thing… Where you have this many discussions, it means you have a lot in common. It means you’re doing more business together. It means you’re communicating more. And it means that you’re going through the growing pains of doing that.”
Even so, there are growing trade disputes between Washington and New Delhi. After Trump hiked tariffs on Indian steel and aluminium, India raised import duties on US farm products last week.
Asked about US sanctions on Iran, which could create difficulties in India-Iran ties, Haley indicated India would face increased pressure to reduce dealings with Iran.
“I did [talk about this] with Prime Minister Modi and… I think India also recognises the threat from Iran. The US is going to continue to try and work with our partners, our friends and our allies to make sure that we are all pushing Iran to be a good, accountable, international member”, she said.
“We’re going to keep the pressure on Iran and hope that other countries will join us because in our eyes, Iran is the next North Korea”, said Haley.
In remarks that will go down well in New Delhi after a controversial report from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) slammed India’s record in Kashmir, Haley explained why America walked out of the body.
Sharply criticising the UNHRC, Haley said serial human rights violators, including Venezuela, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China and the Democratic Republic of Congo got into the Council to make sure they did not get called out for human rights.
“If the Human Rights Council doesn’t do anything, why would the US give them credibility?” asked Haley. “We will be our own human rights council. And we will continue to bring up the issues that we think are important.”
In an allusion to Haley’s reported presidential ambitions, she was asked when would “a woman of Indian origin, a Republican, run for high office?” Unfazed, she replied: “What I can tell you is that a woman of Indian origin is trying to survive the job that she has now.”
Haley, a second-generation American born to Sikh parents in North Carolina, visited a temple, mosque, gurdwara and church earlier on Thursday.