Sushma Swaraj, Tillerson discuss jointly fighting terrorism, Indo-Pacific cooperation

By Arul Louis

New York, Sep 22 (IANS) India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed on Monday how their two countries can jointly fight terrorism and promote security in the Indo-Pacific region.

This follows President Donald Trump’s announcement last month that strategic partnership with India would be “a critical part of the South Asia strategy for America,” placing those issues high on the bilateral agenda.

“They discussed further strengthening the US-India partnership, particularly in the areas of fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth, and expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region,” said Helaena White, the State Department spokesperson for South Asian media.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the two of them “discussed regional issues, with a focus of Pakistan, Afghanistan and terrorism” and “reviewed all aspects all the bilateral relationship, including expanding our trade and investment relations.”

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauer said earlier that Sushma Swaraj and Tillerson also “looked forward to convening a 2+2 dialogue” with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Defence Secretary James Mattis in the near future.

She said that Tillerson thanked Sushma Swaraj “for India’s contributions to stability and development in Afghanistan and the region”.

In his speech on new Afghanistan policy last month, Trump had said a “critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India” and asked for more help from India in Afghanistan, where he was recalibrating US policy.

Sushma Swaraj also took up the issues of H1B visas and illegal immigrant children at their meeting.

Kumar said in a tweet that Swaraj “strongly raised the issue of H1B visa and children falling under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) policy with Secretary Tillerson”.

Another topic that came up in their discussions was the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), which the two countries are to co-host in Hyderabad in November, the State Department said.

Trump’s daughter and his official adviser Ivanka is to lead the US delegation to the summit and she met Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday.

This was the first one-on-one meeting between the top diplomats of the two countries since Tillerson, a former head of the oil giant Exxon Mobil, became Secretary of State.

On Monday, both of them had participated in a trilateral meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.

It was not clear what Sushma Swaraj wanted done about the H1B, a category of temporary visas for professionally qualified people, as there has as yet been no changes to that visa system.

While Trump has spoken of restricting the H1B visa system as part of his policy to put Americans first, so far there have been no changes to it and for this year the same levels of 65,000 for general H1B visas and 20,000 for those with advanced US degrees has been kept.

Indians get most of the H1B visas, although it does not have any national quotas or is specifically designed for Indian.

According to some estimates, about 7,000 Indians are covered by DACA.

DACA was a presidential order issued by then President Barack Obama to allow those who were brought in illegally as children to stay on in the US.

Trump had said that he was not going to renew the DACA order, which will expire next March, and wanted Congress to legislate it into law.

But he has since said that he may reconsider it if Congress had not passed the law by then.

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in)

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