Senior State Department Official Remarks to Traveling Press

Special Briefing
New Delhi, India
September 6, 2018


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: First off, if I could say, this is really building from the President’s meeting with Prime Minister Modi back in June of last year, which was – really set the stage for the administration to continue to build on this convergence of values, which is what makes this relationship remarkable.

And I think in the last year you’ve already seen some of the evidence of this continued transformation in the relationship – the STA-1 announcement that India now enjoys, the licensing of our closest allies, our NATO allies, which gives it, in fact, license-free access to certain defense articles in recognition of the role that we play together – and a building out of what it means for India to be a major defense partner, which, again, is a sui generis category that was – that Congress created for India.

We expect to be on our way to the finalization of certain defense agreements, which will enable our militaries as well as our private sectors to work more closely together both on defense acquisitions but also on defense collaboration. We expect to see institutional cooperation between like the Defense Innovation Unit and the Indian parallel organization, really sort of from the top down this convergence of bureaucracy and interests that we’re excited about.

And I think the context to put this in is the National Security Strategy, the South Asia Strategy, and the Indo-Pacific Strategy. In each of those strategies, India’s role is prominent. I think India is one of the most mentioned countries in the National Security Strategy.

In the South Asia Strategy this administration for the very first time recognized the role that India has to play in the stabilization of Afghanistan, and we’ve had great partnership, including trilateral meetings that I hold with Indian and Afghan partners, in recognition of India’s status, I think, as the fifth-largest assistance contributor to Afghanistan.

And then the Indo-Pacific Strategy, of course, India’s role with us, with other likeminded countries of the region, in committing ourselves to a free and open Indo-Pacific. And there are obviously security dimensions to that cooperation. There are maritime domain awareness (inaudible) of our exercise that we do with Japan, the fact that India is already the country we do the most military exercises with. There’s an economic dimension, connectivity, how do we help countries that want – need infrastructure to have options in order – as they pursue infrastructure development and as they pursue development that allows them to increase intra-regional trade? Here in South Asia there is among the lowest levels of intra-regional trade, and so the task is even greater.

And then finally – oh, I think those were the three elements – the security, the governance, and the economics. And I would say that I just came from Vietnam, where there was the – India was hosting the Indian Ocean conference, which brings together I think like 40-some countries all behind the concept of working together on a vision. And it’s obviously not a containment of China; that’s not the purpose of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, but of an alternate vision of development that embraces the highest standards, that looks at debt sustainability, that looks at labor, environmental, that allows countries to be able to develop in a responsible way. And the appetite for that choice I think is very much there, and we see it in our cooperation in this forum as well as in our bilateral, trilateral with Japan and quadrilateral with Australia efforts.

Finally, CT is obviously another shared interest. We’ve worked closely with India over the last year to have both a counterterrorism dialogue as well as a dialogue on designations. We’re coming up on the 10th anniversary of the Mumbai bombing. Obviously, we share India’s concern that Pakistan continues to allow Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the Mumbai bombing, free, at-large, despite the reward that’s on his head and despite his very known role in helping to facilitate that attack.

So again, I would say overall why is this relationship important to successive administrations and why has it been prioritized under the Trump administration? It’s because there’s a values that creates a foundation that allows us to look not just this year or next year but to talk about how we’re going to partner decades out. And so these are big building blocks that are being finalized here today.

QUESTION: So you mentioned the defensive units and acquisitions part and the S-400 plays into that, but I wanted to start with something more immediate perhaps and the oil from Iran and getting down to zero by November 4th. The Secretary mentioned that that’s going to come up, but are we looking for any specific commitments on that coming out of this particular 2+2?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m sure it will be discussed today. We are asking all of our partners, not just India, to reduce to zero the oil exports – or oil imports from Iran, and so I’m confident that will be a part of our conversation with India. In the past we’ve seen India take steps during the previous round of JCPOA sanctions where they did – their private oil companies did work towards that goal.

QUESTION: But Indian officials have said that the November 4th deadline is not practical, so --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There are very detailed conversations taking place between the U.S. and India on just the technical issues related to going to zero. Those conversations will continue.

QUESTION: Do you expect a deal on this military communications cooperation or partnership? Is that something that could come out of these meetings today? I guess the --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, we are making good progress to concluding some of these key agreements.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: That was – yeah not confirming. Just saying --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. We’re making good progress.

QUESTION: -- we’re making good progress, but DOD will address that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. And then on other agreements from this, do you – I mean, I know talking about sort of the broader strategic relationship, but in terms of like a concrete deliverable, is there something going to come out of this where you’d say okay, we are putting our signatures on certain documents? Would either that --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’ll be a joint statement issued later today that will encapsulate what’s been accomplished over the course of the year, and that will be newly heralded today. I mean, already you’ve seen some of the building blocks. The STA-1 licensing status that was given to India is a significant one as well.

QUESTION: Okay. But in terms of like a firm commitment from them like to not buy the S-400, I mean, is that something that you would press for out of these meetings, or are those more like a dialogue that would happen --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The S-400 continues to be a dialogue, and it’s a dialogue we’re having not just with India but with all of our partners in the region.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: You mentioned CT, and there’s been an increase of violence in the Kashmir region with kidnappings of police, family, and more militance on the Pakistani side than we’ve seen in decades. How much is that a concern to you, and how much is that playing into the discussions today?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m confident that there’ll be a conversation on counterterrorism cooperation, and we share India’s concerns over cross-border infiltrations and violence.

And with respect to – with respect to Indo and Indo-Pak relations, we welcome efforts by both countries to speak with one another and to engage one another. There’s obviously been a DGMO channel that has been used over the last several months. We saw a commitment by the countries, I believe in early June, a commitment by Pakistan to reduce levels of violence along the Line of Control. I think there’s been a reduction in the historic levels, but it’s certainly not the level of reduction that we need to see.

And so I can’t comment on the Secretary’s meetings yesterday, but as an ongoing element of our conversation with Pakistan is the need to end all support for terrorist proxies whether on the eastern border or the western border.

QUESTION: One thing on the – it just seems like the optics between the visit yesterday and the meetings today are so much different. I mean, when he was – landed in Islamabad, he was met by like a protocol officer. He comes here, and the external affairs minister greets him at the airport with a bouquet of flowers and shows him into his car. And the things that you guys are saying about Pakistan now seem essentially identical to what you were saying when the State Department cut security assistance last January. It just doesn’t seem like anything’s changed in that relationship with Pakistan and the Secretary saying exactly what Secretary Tillerson said.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But I would say the more important point is what you started with. It’s a mistake to try to hyphenate India and Pakistan. These are relationships that are utterly separate: a strategic partnership, burgeoning strategic partnership with India, one in which we’re laying out foundations for what you can see down the road is going to be an increasingly robust military, economic, diplomatic relationship; whereas, with Pakistan, we’re confronting existential questions about the relationship and about what Pakistan – what role Pakistan is prepared to play in the international community.

QUESTION: But I know that you guys are in part reluctant to do this, but I mean, is there some point at which you say with Pakistan this just isn’t working out, we’ve got to take other measures, whether it be sanctions or some sort of punitive --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think under the South Asia Strategy what you’ve seen is a series of measures that have been taken with respect to Pakistan. And that dialogue and that effort to engage constructively with Pakistan continues, as you saw with the Secretary’s visit yesterday. Since I wasn’t a part of that visit, I can’t comment on it.

QUESTION: Sure.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But I would go back to the original point. Our relationship with India stands on its own. It’s a partnership that has global implications, and today you’re going to see additional evidence of how well we can work together.