Rex Tillerson to have big regional agenda during India visit

The Afghan-Pakistan situation and Indo-Pacific cooperation could eclipse bilateral concerns

Published - October 22, 2017 12:05 am IST - NEW DELHI

Long journey:  U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson  in Riyadh on Saturday. He will visit many countries, including India.

Long journey: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Riyadh on Saturday. He will visit many countries, including India.

Regional issues could take precedence over bilateral ones, as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives here on Tuesday.

He is expected to raise Washington’s new South Asia policy with respect to Pakistan and Afghanistan and prospects for more cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, officials and diplomats told The Hindu .

“The possibility of an India-Pakistan dialogue will be discussed, and Mr. Tillerson will also brief his Indian counterparts on the outcome of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group [U.S.-China-Afghanistan-Pakistan] meeting on talks with Taliban that took place in Oman on October 16,” a source familiar with the planning for the visit said.

After meetings in Pakistan, Mr. Tillerson will arrive here the same evening. He will hold bilateral talks on Wednesday with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. From Delhi, he is expected to travel to Kabul to meet President Ashraf Ghani. However, the stop at the Afghan capital is yet to be finalised given the security concerns, especially after the Kabul airport attack during the surprise visit of U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis in September. Significantly, Mr. Ghani will visit New Delhi for a day on Tuesday before returning to Kabul.

“He is coming to meet the Indian leadership and hold a strategic consultation, particularly in the wake of the new U.S. policy for Afghanistan and South Asia,” a diplomat told The Hindu .

External Affairs Ministry officials told The Hindu that talks with Pakistan were not on the cards at present.

Envoy meets Sushma

In a development that Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed but described as purely “customary”, Pakistan’s new High Commissioner in Delhi, Sohail Mahmood, met Ms. Swaraj on October 17.

“The Minister and the High Commissioner took stock of the current state of Pakistan-India relations,” the Ministry said, dismissing reports that they had discussed the Kulbhushan Jadhav trial and the dropping of charges against LeT chief Hafiz Saeed.

Officials told The Hindu that Mr. Tillerson and Ms. Swaraj will discuss pending bilateral issues on Wednesday as well, including enhancing trade, the U.S.’s pitch to sell India UAV drones, F-16s and F-18s, and the outstanding decisions on the “foundational agreements” in defence.

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