2020 will be an important year for Indo-U.S. relations: American official

2020 will be an important year for Indo-U.S. relations: American official

Focus would be to implement decisions taken during the 2+2 meeting

As U.S. officials finalise venues and dates of President Donald Trump’s likely visit, an official said the focus of the Indo-U.S. engagements this year would be to implement decisions taken during the 2+2 meeting between Defence and Foreign Ministers in December 2019 and on trade.

“This is going to be an important year for India-U.S. relations. Especially in the first half of the year, we expect to put into practice many of the decisions taken during the 2+2 talks,” a senior Trump administration official told The Hindu, while briefing journalists in Delhi. The official would not, however, confirm the dates of the visit, which has not been formally announced. The Hindu had reported earlier this week that officials are discussing a possible visit next month, around February 24, and the American security and administration officials are undertaking a series of reconnaissance visits over the next week

One of the major objectives of the 2+2 talks between Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper with Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was furthering cooperation on a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, said the official.

During the talks in Washington, both countries had agreed to “promote practical cooperation in infrastructure development, cyber security, counter-terrorism and regional connectivity”. To that end, the U.S. has launched a “Blue Dot Network” which has already taken Japan and Australia on board to encourage private investment in infrastructure projects. The network is “ratings mechanism” that would grade infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific region on different parameters to ensure transparency and is planned as direct counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. However, unlike the BRI, the BDN would not offer public funds or loans for the project.

When asked, the official said he hoped India, which has refused to join China’s BRI, would join the U.S.-led BDN.

“India has as much a role as it wants on the Blue Dot Network (BDN) initiative. It is as open as a Michelin standard for restaurants. We are hoping to build support for this initiative to grade infrastructure projects on debt, environmental standards, labour standards, etc. These would apply to projects in any citizen-centric country where citizens would like to evaluate these projects,” the official said.

The U.S. has also aligned its concept of the “Indo-Pacific geography” with India, to stretch not just from its West Coast to India, “Hollywood to Bollywood”, and has included the Indian Ocean west of India to Africa, from “California to Kilimanjaro”, the official said.

The U.S. official is visiting Delhi at the same time as Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif addressed the Raisina Dialogue where Mr. Zarif had said Iran was no longer interested in “negotiating with the United States”.

When asked about India’s concerns about the impact of the U.S. threat of more sanctions on Iran and on plans to develop the Chabahar port, the official said Washington understood the concerns and suggested that India could play a role in convincing Iran to renegotiate the nuclear deal.

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