Jaishankar in DC to plan for Modi-Trump Summit

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With the Trump administration’s state department in disarray amid reports of being downgraded and downsized, India’s foreign secretary S. Jaishankar was at the White House to meet with National Security Council Advisor H.R.McMaster on March 1st to seek a continuation of everimproving ties with Washington.

According to reports, India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar met Donald Trump’s new National Security Advisor, ahead of the possible Summit between India’s premier Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump.  Among other things,  safety of Indian immigrants and working professionals in the US was discussed in the meeting. The first personal engagement between Trump and PM Modi is expected to take place in May this year.

“Overall, our sense was that the (US) administration has a very positive view of the relationship and a very positive view of India,” foreign secretary S Jaishankar, who led the Indian delegation, told reporters on Friday after the talks.

“It is natural that any new administration that comes in, takes stock of the progress made, sets new targets and bigger ambitions,” he said. And fixing them is the task that lies ahead for the two sides.

On H-1B, the team, which included Indian commerce secretary Rita Teaotia, told Americans the temporary visa scheme, which is in the crosshairs of several Trump officials including the president himself, will “actually help the American economy to be more competitive”, especially as, and when, the administration brings American companies home. Did it carry? They were met with “a degree of understanding”, Jaishankar said.

The Trump administration urged the Indian delegation in these meetings, and at the highest level in the cabinet, to treat the killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian aviation engineer, in a case of hate-crime in Olathe, Kansas, last week as an “act by an individual” and that the “American justice system was at work” and the arrested perpetrator would be brought to justice.

The high-ranking Indian official, considered one of the architects of burgeoning US-India ties, met with Trump’s new National Security Advisor H.R.McMaster even as the new dispensation in Washington is struggling to find its feet. Among his remits is laying the groundwork for the first personal engagement between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi that could take place as early as May by way of a visit, ahead of a possible meeting already on the diplomatic calendar on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg on July 7-8.

Ironing out matters relating to movement of professionals, visa issues, trade barriers, and a defense cooperation agenda, including on the manufacturing front that has already been agreed to by the previous dispensation, are part of the discussions with the new players in Washington, with some familiar faces providing an element of continuity. Jaishankar also met House Speaker Paul Ryan in the familiar Indian outreach that goes beyond the executive to the Congress, where there is bipartisan support for strong ties with India.

The safety of Indian immigrants and working professionals in the U.S following the killing of an engineer from Hyderabad in an apparent hate crime in Kansas featured high in the list of Jaishankar’s talking points going by the statement from Ryan on the meeting, absent a readout from the Indian side. Expressing condolences over the ‘’senseless murder’’ of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, Ryan said ‘’our peoples must stand together,’’ while calling for building on what he described as a ‘’critical partnership… by discussing ways to enhance our economic and defense cooperation.’’

India, just as many countries across the world, is having to deal with the new reality of a powerful White House and an emasculated State Department, and to that extent, Jaishankar’s experience in Washington, where he was the ambassador before being recalled to New Delhi to become foreign secretary, is seen as an advantage.