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Focus on Russia summit could have led US to postpone 2+2 dialogue with India: Experts

NEW YORK (PTI): Contentious trade issues between India and the US are unlikely to have led to the postponement of the first 2+2 dialogue between them and the Trump administration's focus on the July 16 summit with Russia and a possible meeting with North Korean officials could have prompted the deferment of the talks, according to leading India-US experts.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman were to travel to Washington to take part in the meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James Mattis on July 6.
However, Pompeo spoke over phone with Swaraj on June 27 and conveyed to her "his regret at the postponement" of the 2+2 dialogue due to "unavoidable reasons". They agreed to reschedule the dialogue as "soon as possible".

Former US Ambassador to India Frank Wisner told PTI that he has "no reason" to doubt the "official line" that the US asked for the delay because of "unavoidable reasons".

"While there are a number of contentious trade issues to sort out, none rise singly or collectively to constitute a crisis or anything like one. The strategic logic of the relationship remains strong, Wisner said in an email response when asked to comment on the reasons for the postponement of the 2+2 dialogue and how it augurs for India-US ties.

Wisner said he expects new dates for the talks to be announced soon.

In a similar vein, Senior Adviser and Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at Washington-based The Center for Strategic and International Studies Richard Rossow said the postponement was not due to the negative barrage of trade issues but instead could be because of the upcoming Russia summit and perhaps another meeting with North Korean officials.

President Donald Trump will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16 for a closely watched summit meeting.

A report in the Financial Times said Pompeo will visit Pyongyang this week to press forward with the Trump administration's efforts to force North Korea to denuclearise.

The Financial Times cited US officials as saying that Pompeo had cancelled a planned meeting with his Indian counterpart in Washington on July 6 in order to fly to Pyongyang.

The joint declaration after the Singapore meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had stipulated Pompeo would hold follow-on talks with an unnamed senior North Korean official at the earliest possible date, but no timeline was given for such a meeting, the report added.

Pompeo had to cancel the meeting because of important travel related to North Korea, a US official said in the Financial Times report.

Another US official said an official announcement was expected in the coming days.

The 2+2 dialogue format was agreed upon between the two sides during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington in June 2017. It was seen as a vehicle to elevate the strategic relationship between the two countries with special focus on bolstering strategic, security and defence cooperation.

Without explaining the "unavoidable reasons" for the postponement of the dialogue, the State Department Spokesperson asserted that the US-India relationship was "a major priority" for the Trump administration, and it looks forward to continuing to strengthen the partnership.

The postponement was seen coming in the wake of trade tensions between New Delhi and Washington. The postponement came in the backdrop of India's plan to purchase the S-400 missile defence system from Russia, which was expected to be among the topics for discussion.

The US passed the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) against Russia in August 2017 for reportedly influencing and manipulating the 2016 presidential election process. India wants its defence deals with Russia outside the purview of the CAATSA.

It also came a day after the Trump administration told India and other countries to cut oil imports from Iran to "zero" by November 4 or face sanctions, making it clear that there would be no waivers to anyone.

However, the US embassy in India in a statement on June 28 had said the postponement of the '2+2 dialogue' was prompted by reasons entirely unrelated to the bilateral ties.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley in an address in New Delhi had also said that the delay in that meeting was completely unrelated to India.


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