US Calls Off Key Talks With India Amid Tensions Over Trade Tariffs, Iran Oil

JUN 30, 2018: Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman were to hold talks with their American counterparts Mike Pompeo and James Mattis next week on economic, trade and defense issues.

But with trade tensions escalating between India and United States, the high-level 2+2 dialogue between the two countries has been called off by the US citing “unavoidable reasons.”

The cancellation comes at a time when US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is on a visit to India and met with Prime Minister Modi on Wednesday.

On Thursday night, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to convey the “postponement” of the high-level ‘2+2’ talks with India scheduled for next week in Washington. No new dates for the meeting have been announced. The development was announced by the Indian External Affairs ministry in a tweet. The decision is seen as an open snub to India, the Times of India wrote.

It is the second time that the 2+2 dialogue has been scrapped after an earlier effort to schedule it in March was unsuccessful. The two sides agreed on the 2+2 format after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met American President Donald Trump in June 2017.

India had last week announced its intentions to raise tariffs on 29 goods imported from the US in retaliation for Washington’s decision to include India in its list of countries covered by higher steel and aluminum duties.

The downturn in Indian-US relations has happened against the backdrop of a crucial meeting between US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. Haley had said that her two-day visit to India was aimed at solidifying the partnership between the two countries. She also met Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Apart from the ongoing trade tiff, the Trump administration is pushing countries to completely eliminate oil imports from Iran. However, India and South Korea, both considered US allies, are among the largest importers of Iranian crude oil. After Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, India had said that it would comply only with sanctions imposed by the United Nations sanctions and not any country-specific sanctions.

The Iran message was delivered most clearly by Haley during her visit to New Delhi, TOI said. New Delhi, despite its efforts to preserve energy independence, may be forced to comply to avoid sanctions from kicking in, the report added.

During her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, Haley, the tough US face, re-emphasized the importance of India cutting oil imports from Iran. In an interview to a TV channel, Haley reiterated that message: “I think for the future of India, future of resources, we would encourage them to rethink their relationship with Iran.”

If that did not sound tough enough, she clarified, “All of us have to rethink who we choose to do business with. I think, as a friend, India should also decide is this a country they want to continue doing business with. So yes, I had that conversation with PM Modi. It was a constructive conversation.”

During the Obama years, India had to show a “significant reduction” and demonstrate it was bringing down oil imports at an average rate of 20% every six months. But US President Donald Trump has insisted that this go down to “zero”.

The paper cited sources saying the dialogue would be rescheduled “soon” but bringing four top ministers together on a single day is proving to be a challenge.

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