With External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj sitting by his side, visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday took on Pakistan, saying there are “too many terror outfits” which find a “safe place in Pakistan” and Washington has conveyed “certain expectations” to Islamabad.
After the bilateral talks that lasted for over an hour-and-a-half, Swaraj said US President Donald Trump’s new South Asia strategy would be successful “only if Pakistan takes effective action against terrorist groups without any discrimination”.
However, Tillerson also made it clear that Washington wants to work with Islamabad in a “positive way” — he met Pakistan’s leadership on Tuesday — and put in place a “cooperation mechanism” on information-sharing and action taken against groups.
The two sides agreed to convene the 2+2 dialogue mechanism, between the foreign and defence ministers of both countries, “early next year”. Later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his meeting with Tillerson, noted the commonality in the objectives of eradicating terrorism, terrorist infrastructure, safe havens and support, while bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan — in the context of President Trump’s new South Asia policy.
A PMO statement said that in this regard, Tillerson exchanged views on his “recent travels in the region” — a reference to Pakistan — with the Prime Minister and they further discussed stepping up effective cooperation to combat terrorism in all its forms and promote regional stability and security.
Addressing a joint press interaction earlier in the day, Swaraj said, “We agreed that Pakistan should take immediate steps to end the terrorist groups and their safe havens which are located in Pakistan. We believe that President Trump’s new strategy will be successful only if Pakistan takes effective action against terrorist groups without any discrimination.”
“We had a frank exchange on concerns. There are too many terror organisations which find a safe place in Pakistan. We extended to Pakistan certain expectations that we had. We are attempting to put in place a cooperation mechanism, not just on information sharing but also action — to deny them ability to launch attacks against other countries… We are also concerned about stability of the Pakistan government as well, as they have enlarged their capacity within the country and threaten to destabilise. We want to work with Pakistan in a positive way as we think that this is in their interest in the long-term,” said Tillerson.
Raising the issue of Indo-Pacific, Tillerson said, “Our relationship’s core foundation is our common values, which is underlined by commitment to individual freedom and rule of law… US supports India’s emergence as a leading power and will support India’s capability to provide security in the region.” This was again a continuation of his speech in Washington last week.
Swaraj reiterated India’s position on freedom of navigation, air flight, commerce in Indo-Pacific region, which was a topic of the India-US talks.
The two leaders also discussed North Korea, as the US administration has been pushing its allies and partners to cut off diplomatic and trade ties with Pyongyang.
Swaraj said that trade between India and North Korea is “minimal”, and New Delhi has a “small embassy”. She argued that New Delhi’s mission in North Korea can serve as a channel of communication for the US. They also discussed Iran, and, when asked about India’s Chabahar port development, Tillerson took a nuanced view. “It is not our objective to harm the Iranian people. Nor is it our objective to interfere with legitimate business activities which are going on with other businesses, whether they be from Europe, India or agreements that are in place that promote economic development to the benefit of our friends and allies as well,” he said.
“We think that there is no contradiction within that policy and we are calling on some of these counter parties to join us in imposing sanctions on Iran’s activities, and in particular, the activities of the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps and their subsidiaries — to punish them for the destabilising activities that we see Iran carrying out in this region,” he said.
The H-1B visa issue also came up during the meeting, which was once again raised by Swaraj. She had raised the issue with Tillerson at her meeting last month.
During Tillerson’s meeting with Modi, they discussed the “firm upward trajectory” in the bilateral strategic partnership following the “positive and far-reaching” talks with Trump in June this year.