US abruptly scraps talks with India amid growing differences
The United States on Wednesday abruptly scrapped much-anticipated high-level talks with India amid growing differences between the two countries, partly stemming from a chaotic administration in Washington where New Delhi is clearly not a priority country anymore.
US officials are said to have conveyed to their Indian counterparts that talks between the US defense secretary and secretary of state and their Indian opposites, scheduled for July 6 in Washington, are being “postponed” due to “unavoidable reasons.”
“US @SecPompeo sought EAM @SushmaSwaraj understanding, and they agreed to identify new mutually convenient dates to hold the Dialogue at the earliest, in India or the US,” Raveesh Kumar, spokesman for India’s external affairs ministry, tweeted on Wednesday night IST.
This is the second time that the 2+2 dialogue has been scrapped after an earlier effort to get them going in March had to be “postponed” when then secretary of state Rex Tillerson was fired by President Trump. The current defence secretary Jim Mattis too is on a dicey wicket — according to Washington scuttlebutt – with a President who is charitably described a mercurial.
The postponement comes amid wide differences between Washington and New Delhi, including threat of sanctions against India on two fronts: If it goes ahead with the anticipated purchase of S-400 missile system from Russia, and if it does not end oil purchases from Iran.
The two sides also have serious differences on trade and tariff issues, particularly after President Trump elevated a trivial matter of tariff on Harley Davidson motorcycles worth less than $5 million into a signature issue, including repeated public smackdown of India.
Both issues have exasperated New Delhi, which is loath to give up its long-time friends and its economic interests to please a whimsical country that changes its policy frequently, sometimes on account of its domestic politics, and often on the basis of misrepresentation.
The immediate reason for nixing the July 6 talks is not known but it has also become increasingly apparent that India is not a priority country for an administration that is barely coherent in its foreign policy except to say “America first.” The President has dissed almost all US allies across the world, from neighbouring Canada and Mexico to distant Australia and South Korea, with the European Union in between, at the expense of pandering to strongmen such as North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
In fact, one possible explanation for scrapping the talks with India is the administration’s focus on setting up a Trump-Putin summit, possibly on July 15 in Vienna. Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton is in Moscow to do the spadework, and the President’s minions are expected to trip over each other to work on a relationship that is clearly a priority item for Trump.