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Bilateral issues in focus as Nikki Haley set to visit India

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Haley’s visit comes in the middle of a deteriorating India-US relationship. She will deliver a talk at the Observer Research Foundation.

New Delhi: The India visit of Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, on 27-28 June comes in the middle of a deteriorating India-US bilateral relationship, marked by a precipitating trade war, President Donald Trump’s arbitrary moves on the Afghanistan-Pakistan front as well as rising disaffection about US sanctions with Delhi’s friends Russia and Iran.

Haley will be hosted by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and deliver a talk at the Observer Research Foundation think-tank. A meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi is yet to be confirmed.

Haley’s visit comes ahead of the inaugural ‘2+2’ meeting of foreign and defence ministers of India and the US on 6 July in Washington DC. Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman are likely to raise Delhi’s concerns about the Trump administration’s evolving perspective on the AfPak region when they meet their counterparts in the US.

Meanwhile, Delhi continues to woo Iran for its oil imports and Russia for its S-400 air defence systems, but the US has applied sanctions against both. A limited waiver for India on the S-400 deal with Russia in the US Congress is expected, but not fully confirmed.

Human rights situation

Haley’s visit comes at an interesting time. The US has just walked out of the UN Human Rights Council, citing its “disproportionate focus and unending hostility towards Israel”. As US ambassador to the UN, Haley voiced her severe disapproval against the Council, saying it had passed five resolutions against Israel earlier this year, more than the number passed against North Korea, Iran and Syria combined.

Haley is sure to find a lot of receptive heads in India on the human rights front. The UN Human Rights Council has recently reprimanded India for the situation in Jammu & Kashmir and seemingly encouraged UN special rapporteurs to find fault with India’s freedom of speech as well as castigated it on the Sterlite dispute in Tamil Nadu.

Trade war

Coincidentally, Haley will arrive in India soon after assistant US trade representative Mark Linscott touches down on 26 June. Considering a full-blown trade war is brewing between India and the US, a Cabinet-rank minister in the Trump government will be expected to soothe Delhi’s nerves.

A recent visit by commerce minister Suresh Prabhu to the US did not yield any joy. India has threatened to take the US to the WTO if it withdraws trade subsidies under the generalised system of preferences (GSP) for India, guaranteed to hit exports. The GSP allows Indian exporters to sell about 3,500 items to US at low tariffs.

In fact, New Delhi has now decided to retaliate against US duties on Indian steel and aluminium to compensate for $241 million it says it will lose because of the duties. India has proposed to levy 50 per cent extra duty on 30 American goods — including on Harley Davidson bikes, almonds and apples.

The Harley bikes are of especial concern to President Trump — he had even complained about the duties on the bikes to Modi in a phone conversation earlier in the year. India believes that the bikes are a trump card in its own fight back, especially on the GSP front.

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  1. It is factually untrue to say the Human Rights Council has just reprimanded India. The fact is that a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has looked at Jammu and Kashmir in a survey of the human rights situation in Kashmir. The report has not been adopted by the Human Rights Council. Please Google search these facts before putting them in public domain, as they will unnecessarily mislead the public. Thanks.

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