Tillerson pushes F-16, F-18s; Sushma raises H1-B visas

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on January 08, 2018

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before their meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday   -  PTI

‘2+2’ dialogue mechanism likely to be held in January 2018

Eyeing India’s $10-billion single-engine fighter jet deal, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pushed for the sale of F-16 and F-18 warplanes with the government, while India raised the issue of H-1B visas and conclusion of the totalisation agreement.

During his meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Tillerson is believed to have highlighted the sale of these fighter jets as his topmost agenda, sources told BusinessLine.

Tillerson’s visit comes at a time when India is looking to issue a revised request for information (RFI) to procure about 200-300 warplanes for the Air Force superseding the RFI that was issued last year.

“We are willing to provide advanced technologies for its military modernisation efforts. This includes ambitious offers from American companies for F-16 and F-18 fighter planes,” Tillerson said here on Thursday addressing the media jointly with Swaraj.

F-16 is manufactured by Lockheed Martin and it has already partnered with Tata Advanced Systems to build an upgraded version, F-16 Block 70, of the plane here in India under the ‘Make in India’ plan.

Similarly, American defence giant Boeing has also offered to set up an F/A-18 fighter jet production facility here.

According to Swaraj, both sides discussed the possibility of full implementation of co-production and co-development in defence programmes.

However, sources said there were no discussions on the contentious issue of complete transfer of technology.

Tillerson also said he looked forward to the inauguration of the ‘2+2 Dialogue’ early next year which he would be chairing along with US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis. India will be represented by Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

According to sources, the ‘2+2 Dialogue’ that will replace the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, is likely to be held in January next year.

‘Trade ties growing’

Tillerson also said trade and economic ties between both countries are growing at a blistering pace. Referring to the arrival of the first shipment of American crude oil, he said this was an “important milestone” in the bilateral trade ties, adding that bilateral ties that touched $115 billion last year may get a $2-billion boost with the oil shipments.

He also lauded the opening of a car plant by Mahindra in Detroit, which will be the first-ever Indian automobile manufacturing plant in the US.

Tillerson said the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit, scheduled to be held in Hyderabad next month, would provide opportunities to both countries to explore their entrepreneurial skills. US entrepreneurs will be led by US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump.

During the meeting, India also raised the issue of H-1B and L-1 professional visas and urged the US not to take any step that would prove detrimental for the Indian IT industry.

Swaraj also batted for early conclusion of the long-pending totalisation agreement that seeks to exempt Indians working temporarily in the US from having to pay into the US Social Security system.

On terrorism, Swaraj said efforts made by the US would not yield any result unless Pakistan took stringent action against terror groups based in that country.

“In fighting terrorism, US will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with India. Terror safe havens will not be tolerated,” Tillerson added.

Tillerson also met Modi later in the day during which the Prime Minister noted the commonality in the objectives of eradicating terrorism, terrorist infrastructure, safe havens, and support, while bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.

Published on October 25, 2017

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