New Delhi – The United States on Tuesday reiterated its strong commitment to fight terrorism coming from any quarters including Pakistan and expand bilateral cooperation with India in major fields.
US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker joined US Secretary of State John Kerry to co-chair the Second Indo-US Strategic and Commercial (S&C) dialogue along with their Indian counterparts Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Indian Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi.
At the post-S&C joint press conference with the participating officials, US Secretary Kerry made it clear that the US, “continues to support all efforts to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai and the Pathankot attacks to justice, and we cannot and we will not make distinctions between good and bad terrorists. Terror is terror no matter where it comes from or who carries it out.”
Answering a question, Secretary Kerry said, “United States stands in strong partnership with India against all terrorism, no matter where it comes from, no matter what form it takes.” Reiterating the US position on Mumbai attacks in which six US citizens also lost lives, Kerry said, “We stand fully behind India in demanding that there be justice with respect to the Mumbai attacks, with respect to other – and we have had conversations with all of the members of the region, frankly, about efforts they need to take to curb terrorism that comes out of their countries. And that is true of everybody, anywhere in the world. So I think it is crystal clear that the United States and India are of exactly – well, of similar mind with respect to the issue of terror and the need to not only prevent it but to bring those to justice who perpetrate it.”
Earlier Indian Minister Swaraj ruled out any dialogue with Pakistan as, “terror and talks cannot go hand-in-hand.” On her talks with Kerry, she said, “We both agreed that nations must not maintain double standards, such as the categorization of good and bad terrorists, nor must they act as sanctuaries and safe havens for terrorist organizations.”
“We reaffirmed the urgent necessity for Pakistan to dismantle safe havens for terrorists and criminal networks including Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and D Company. Secretary Kerry and I also agreed on the need for Pakistan to do more to bring the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai and 2016 Pathankot terrorist attacks to justice quickly,” she said.
Highlighting the regional importance of India, Secretary Kerry announced relaunching of trilateral talks saying, “To reaffirm our mutual roles as essential players on behalf of security and progress in this region, we will restart trilateral talks between the United States, India, and Afghanistan at the United Nations General Assembly next month.”
“Doing so is going to enable us to determine how best to build on the past gains of securing villages, empowering women, educating students, and promoting good governance across Afghanistan,” Kerry said, adding, “I want to thank India for the important contribution it has been making to the efforts in Afghanistan.”
In response to a question, Kerry said, “There are major infrastructure projects in Afghanistan that India is investing in. I think there’s about $2 billion of Indian investment in Afghanistan. And clearly, it is in India’s interest, as it is in Afghan interests and our interests and Pakistan’s interests, frankly, to have a peaceful and stable Afghanistan that is no longer under siege from the Taliban or from any other group that tries to use its territory to propagate terror.”
Echoing Secretary Kerry’s sentiments, Indian Minister Swaraj said, “We also had detailed discussions on the developments in our region, particularly Afghanistan. We have agreed to work together to strengthen the National Unity Government in Afghanistan.”
Cooperation at Local Levels
In recent times, the United States has started attaching significant importance to ties with the State Governments and Cities in India. Commerce Secretary Pritzker, the other Cabinet-level official attending from Washington said, “We also agreed to strengthen economic ties between US and Indian states and cities, including by highlighting state-level business opportunities and linking US and Indian companies looking to invest with local leaders and economic officials – economic development officials in both of our countries.”
Indian Federal Government in recent years has kicked aside numerous trade barriers with New Delhi eyeing to expand bilateral trade five-fold to $500 billion annually with Washington. To reach that goal, participants in the current dialogue need to “think bigger, act bolder,” said Pritzker, adding, “We must make it easier for Indian and American companies to buy from each other, to invest in each other, and to create with each other.”
Visa Fee Hike Issue
But Indian businesses were not smiling as they pointed at the recent hikes in visa fees for professionals coming from India. Answering questions on the subject, Pritzker said, “I don’t believe that that’s true because the United States recognizes the enormous contribution of foreign workers to our economy, including in our workers from India, and increasing US and Indian business-to-business ties has been one of our highest priorities. And we greatly value the Indian companies that invest in our economy, and in fact, Indian foreign direct investment into the United States is around $11.8 billion as of 2015.”
Highlighting the benefits Indian IT workers get, Pritzker said ,”If you look at the data, Indians are the beneficiaries in Fiscal Year 2015 of about 69 percent of all H-1B visas and 30 percent of all L-1 visas issued worldwide. And any changes that have been made to our H-1B and L-1 visa application process – they’re not limited or focused on Indian nationals. They’re really – they’re an across-the-board change.”
Promising to look into the matter, Pritzker said, “But given the concern expressed by Indian industry, I committed to Minister Sitharaman to look into this and to report back, so I will be working with the State Department to understand how we’re implementing the new laws that we have.”
Indian Minister Swaraj chipped in saying, “As a result, to dispel the feeling of being targeted and to also ensure that the feeling of trust which prevails between the two countries, Penny Pritzker came up voluntarily during the meetings, on her own said she would take it up, will look into this matter, and see what progresses.”
“Today, as we close our second Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, the strategic and commercial partnership between the United States and India has never been stronger. In a very short time, we have seen how this dialogue can make us stronger economic partners. However, we have much more to do to reach the incredible potential that exists in our commercial relationship,” concluded Secretary Pritzker.
The wide-ranging second US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue is the latest in a series of significant meetings and agreements that have brought Washington and Delhi closer amid rising concerns in both capitals about a more assertive China.