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Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo Arrives In India To Talk Trade


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spent most of the past couple of days in the Middle East, focusing on shoring up U.S. allies against Iran. This evening, he landed in New Delhi, where he'll switch gears from tensions with Iran to tensions with a country that's more friend than foe - India. NPR's Lauren Frayer is in New Delhi. She joins us now to preview Pompeo's talks there.

And, Lauren, let's just start with why he's headed to India. What does the secretary of state expect to accomplish there?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: So this is part of a years-long effort to build U.S.-India ties. Pompeo was here last fall. India got sidetracked with its own elections this spring, and so now Pompeo is back to continue that effort. And the U.S. wants India, the world's largest democracy, to sort of be a buffer to China's growing power. In a speech last week previewing this trip, Pompeo said, basically, that may be easier said than done. After all, look at the map. India is in a pretty tough neighborhood, he said.


MIKE POMPEO: We get it. We realize it's different to deal with the likes of China and Pakistan from across the ocean than it is when they are on your borders.

FRAYER: He said part of building this U.S.-India relationship is increasing military exercises between the U.S. and India, which are happening later this year, selling India U.S. defense equipment, including fighter jets, rather than having India buy them from Russia, which it's done in the past. One stumbling block, though, in this growing relationship has been Iran. India used to buy oil from Iran. It stopped doing that very recently, kind of begrudgingly, under the threat of U.S. sanctions.

CORNISH: So Iran is one issue. Can you talk about some of the other challenges?

FRAYER: So chief among the challenges here is trade. India was one of the countries hurt by the Trump administration's steel and aluminum tariffs last year. Then this spring, the U.S. eliminated this special duty-free status for some goods imported from India. The U.S. no longer sees India as this poor, developing country, rather a growing power, which no longer needs preferential trade status.

Delhi, though, in turn has hiked tariffs on some U.S. imports. And so suddenly, we're looking at this - you know, another possible front in the Trump administration's trade wars. India tends to be protectionist. President Trump is angry that India puts, for example, a 50% tariff on imported Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Indian e-commerce rules have hurt U.S. companies like Amazon. There's also Huawei, a Chinese company you may have been hearing a lot about lately. The U.S. wants India to boycott it - not use any Huawei components in any new Indian technologies.

CORNISH: We've been talking about the ongoing U.S.-Iran standoff. And I'm wondering if that's likely to surface during these talks.

FRAYER: It very well may. India has maintained ties with Iran. As I mentioned, it used to buy Iranian oil before the U.S. threatened sanctions and India had to go elsewhere for it. India has also built and is operating this port in Iran, for which the U.S. has granted exemption from sanctions. It operates supply routes to Afghanistan from there. India does not want these talks with Pompeo to be dominated by Iran.

At the same time, you know, it may be useful for Pompeo to talk to a country that has warmer relations with Iran. India could be a moderating force here. India certainly doesn't want to be forced to take sides in this growing conflict with Iran. And we should mention Trump and Modi - Prime Minister Modi will meet at the G20 later this week. And this may come up there as well.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer, speaking to us from New Delhi.

Thanks for your reporting.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.