New Delhi: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is likely to give India an exemption on the use and development of the Chabahar port in Iran during his visit next week, a top official of the US State Department told ThePrint.
He will also assure the government that the H-1B visa issue will not be linked with that of data localisation, the official added.
“We appreciate steps India has taken to reduce crude oil (purchases) from Iran. India understands our concerns (on Iran),” the official said over the phone from Washington.
According to the official, the Donald Trump administration will grant an exemption to India on doing business with Iran as far as the Chabahar port is concerned because it “allows India to continue essential humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan as well as provide Afghanistan with economic alternatives”.
India sees the Chabahar as a crucial gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia as Pakistan has denied New Delhi access to Kabul through its own territory. However, the official said the US will not allow India to resume its oil purchases with Tehran, something New Delhi reportedly seeks, because the administration remains firm on “building pressure” on Iran.
India halted its oil imports from Iran with effect from 2 May following the expiry of a so-called waiver granted by the US last year.
‘No plans to cap H-1B and link with data localisation issue’
The official also said Pompeo, who will be in India from 25-27 June and will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on 26 June, will “assure” New Delhi that the US administration has no plans to put a limit on the annual quota of H-1B work visas for countries that force foreign companies to store data locally.
Both issues have come to dominate bilateral discussions: The H-1B visa is coveted by thousands of Indian professionals looking for work stints in the US, while Washington has been miffed about India’s plans to push foreign companies to build local servers to store data about Indians.
“The secretary will be able to assure the Indian leadership that we have no plans to place caps on H-1B work visa,” the official added.
The official, however, reiterated that the issue of data localisation continues to be a thorny one for American firms operating in India, which continue to complain of lack of “market access” and a “level playing field”.
“Data localisation continues to remain a problem for us and we will discuss it with India,” the official added.
Apart from this, trade issues are going to be an important part of the talks agenda during the visit.
“Recent Indian government measures such as increasing tariffs on a range of products, restricting e-commerce operations and limiting the free flow of data have become particularly problematic,” the official said.
Among other appointments, Pompeo is expected to address a meeting of Indian as well as American business leaders during his India visit, which comes days before the G20 Summit kicks off in Osaka, Japan.
India ‘should forego’ S-400 deal with Russia
Pompeo, who is coming on a three-day visit to India, will be asking India to “forego” the $5.4 billion purchase of the S-400 Triumf air defence system from Russia as it has asked its partners to avoid coming under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
The Act envisages sanctions on entities that do business with countries the US sees as adversaries, namely, Iran, Russia and North Korea.
The official said if India went ahead with the deal, it might impact the transfer of critical defence technology that Washington plans to share with New Delhi on some of the platforms under the Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (STA-1) status, which the US has given India on a par with its NATO allies.
The US has already offered Lockheed Martin’s THAAD system (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) or Raytheon’s Patriot system as alternatives to India.
Pompeo’s visit is expected to lay the ground for a meeting between Prime Minister Modi and US President Trump on the sidelines of the G20 Summit from 28-29 June.
His visit will also set the tone for the next round of 2+2 ministerial meetings, which takes place between the US secretaries of state and defence and their Indian counterparts. The first round was held last year in New Delhi. This year, it will be held in Washington DC.
“Pompeo’s visit is a good opportunity to tee up some potential deliverables for when the 2+2 ministerial dialogue happens later in 2019, and to hopefully reduce trade tensions somewhat,” said Rick Rossow, senior adviser and Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“But I do not know if either side is ready to remove market access barriers, and India’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile system looms large. The irritants currently outweigh the positive elements of our government-to-government relations,” he added, “It will take a concerted effort and some level of political fortitude on both sides to pull the relationship out of its tailspin.”