The Chairman of the U.S House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), Eliot Engel, wrote to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Monday, saying there was a growing view that the Trump administration was coercing India on various fronts rather than negotiating with it.
Mr. Engel, whose committee has oversight responsibilities over the State Department, sent his letter as Pompeo’s tour of Asia, including India , kicked off.
The letter highlights the timing of the U.S.’s U.S.’s withdrawal of GSP (preferential trade access) benefits to India and the removal of waivers of sanctions on importing Iranian oil and it urges Mr. Pompeo to reaffirm the India-U.S. partnership and bring coherence to it.
“There is a growing view that the Administration is attempting to coerce India into complying with U.S. demands on a variety of issues, rather than negotiating with them as a strategic partner,” the letter read.
“The threats to strip India of its privileges under the Generalized System of Preferences in the middle of the country’s general election has furthered the notion that the Administration sees the India relationship as a transactional one. And the decision to end waivers related to U.S. sanctions on Iran could alienate India when we need to be working with our partners to prevent destabilizing Iranian activities,” it said.
India, which depends heavily on oil imports to meet its growing energy needs, had grudgingly stopped new import orders of Iranian oil from May 2, when waivers of U.S. Iran oil sanctions expired. This has placed further strain on the relationship with Washington. Mr. Pompeo is in New Delhi this week, at a time when there are a number of trade related challenges in the relationship.
“I urge you to use your visit to not only reaffirm and strengthen the U.S.-India strategic partnership, but also convey a coherent set of objectives and predictability to the new Indian government that will help this relationship reach its full potential,” Mr. Engel wrote.
The Engel letter cites the positive rhetoric from the administration but points to a gap between the rhetoric and actions on the ground, saying the administration’s policies have failed to advance U.S. objectives in addition to introducing “significant friction” in the bilateral relationship.
“…I am deeply concerned by the inconsistencies between the administration’s rhetoric and actions towards India, which are further exacerbated by the lack of a confirmed Assistant Secretary more than two years into this Administration’s term,” Mr. Engel wrote.
Mr. Engel and several House Democrats had written to Mr Trump on May 15 expressing their concern over the Assistant Secretary vacancy and what they saw as the administration’s failure to form a coherent India policy.
“The measure and strength of bilateral relationships cannot be boiled down to trade deficits and tariffs. Frankly, the inconsistent U.S. approach toward India risks setting back the strategic partnership that our countries have worked for decades to cultivate,” the letter read.
“The Administration’s policies have not only failed to advance U.S. objectives, but have also introduced significant friction in our partnership with New Delhi. The trade concerns are real, and the United States must continue to work with the Indian government on market access and other important issues like international child abduction and human rights,” it said.
“The measure and strength of bilateral relationships cannot be boiled down to trade deficits and tariffs. Frankly, the inconsistent U.S. approach toward India risks setting back the strategic partnership that our countries have worked for decades to cultivate,” Mr. Engel wrote.