North Korea threat, Pakistan security and China’s rising influence dominate Tillerson talks in India

US secretary of state meets with foreign minister of the South Asia power

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 October, 2017, 7:54am

India has slashed trade with North Korea in line with UN sanctions over the North’s nuclear tests but will not close its Pyongyang embassy, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Wednesday.

North Korea was one of a number of key Asian security topics raised by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in New Delhi. The United States has reportedly been urging allies to cut diplomatic ties with the North.

“We had open discussion on the issues of trade reduction and closing the embassy,” Swaraj told a press conference after the meeting.

“I told Mr Tillerson that as far as trade is concerned it has come down, really come down. It has become minimal.”

Trade between India and North Korea amounted to US$130 million in 2016-17, but in the current financial year it stands at US$10.95 million, according to official data.

India banned all trade with the North, except food and medicine, from April this year, the foreign ministry said.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Pakistan as pressure mounts to ‘undermine support for Taliban’

However, Swaraj said the embassy should remain as a link with the North.

“Our embassy there is very small. But the embassy is there and I told Mr Tillerson that some of your friendly nations’ embassies should stay there so that some channels of communication remain open.”

Swaraj said Tillerson “understood” and “appreciated” India’s stand.

While India has strongly condemned North’s nuclear tests, it has maintained diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

The United States has led a UN Security Council drive to tighten sanctions against the North for its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

After a flurry of missile launches by the North and its sixth nuclear test last month, the UN imposed new sanctions that included bans or restrictions on the export of coal, iron ore and seafood by Pyongyang.

After the talks with India’s foreign secretary, Tillerson also reiterated America’s concern that extremist groups are threatening the “stability and security” in neighbouring Pakistan – where he had visited a day earlier.

He said too many extremists were finding sanctuary inside Pakistan to launch attacks on other nations and Islamabad had an interest “in not just containing these organisations but ultimately eliminating” the groups.

But America’s top diplomat – whose frosty visit to Islamabad lasted just four hours – said the United States would not tolerate extremist safe havens, and he thanked India for its support combating extremism.

“In the fight against terrorism the United States will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with India,” he said.

New Delhi has welcomed US overtures for closer ties, saying it shares Washington’s optimism about their burgeoning relationship.

Speaking ahead of his visit, Tillerson called for deeper cooperation with India in the face of growing Chinese influence in Asia, and said Washington wanted to promote a “free and open” region led by prosperous democracies.

Trump’s top diplomat also said Beijing sometimes acted outside international conventions, citing the South China Sea dispute as an example.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said that Trump’s strategy for the region hinged on Pakistan eradicating militant havens on its territory.

“We believe that President Trump’s new policy can succeed only if Pakistan effectively acts against all terror organisations without any discrimination,” she told the press conference with Tillerson.

India has historically avoided alliances, preferring to maintain cautious relations with both Washington and Beijing, but Trump has developed a warm relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Tillerson, who was to meet Modi later on Wednesday, started the day by meeting national security adviser Ajit Doval.

He also laid a wreath at a memorial to India’s independence movement leader Mahatma Gandhi, removing his shoes to approach a pillar marking the spot where Gandhi was shot dead on January 30, 1948.