NEW DELHI: Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, will make his first visit to India in the week post-Diwali, for a round of talks with Sushma Swaraj. He is following James Mattis, defence secretary who kicked off high level visits from the Trump administration to India.
Tillerson’s visit will coincide with commerce minister, Suresh Prabhu’s own visit to Washington for the first commercial dialogue with Wilbur Ross and Robert Lighthizer. Finance minister Arun Jaitley is in New York this week for talks with Steven Mnuchin, treasury secretary. The Tillerson visit was decided when Sushma Swaraj met him on the sidelines of the UNGA session last September.
The annual strategic dialogue between India and US has been recast in the Trump administration — formerly the strategic an commercial dialogue, India and US will now focus on a two-plus-two format of foreign and defence dialogues, with the commerce dialogue being hived off as a separate engagement.
Mattis’ visit set the tone for the India-US engagement, particularly in the context of Trump’s South Asia policy — India’s takeaways from that visit was that there would be new markers set by Washington for Pakistan.
However, sources in Washington say elements of the State Department continues to push for a much softer policy towards Pakistan. Tillerson himself placed “qualifiers” into Trump’s South Asia policy soon after it was announced. On Thursday, Pakistan also helped to “free” an American family held in captivity by the Haqqani network for years — as far as India is concerned it not only shows Islamabad‘s influence over these terror groups, but also its willingness to play the old game of delivering high value “assets” when the going got tough. Indian government will question Tillerson about how these actions will influence the South Asia policy.