NEW YORK: India and the US cannot be "fighting every day on trade issues" while cooperating on defence, former US Ambassador to India Richard Verma has said, highlighting the need to "fire on all cylinders" to move ahead of their strategic relations.
Verma said Washington and New Delhi want an "ambitious relationship" and to become natural allies for that they need to be "firing on all cylinders", including economic and military.
"We need a full-scale relationship, not just the defence relationship, not just the strategic relationship. We need to focus on the economic side too. We somehow need to navigate America First with Make in India," Verma said here yesterday.
"We can't be fighting everyday on trade, cooperating on defence and think we are just going to have a great relationship. We need to be firing on all cylinders, that means economic, that means military," he said.
He further stressed that the US needs to take its defence relationship with India to the next level.
"That means we ought to be providing India with the most advanced technology, we ought to make sure that if India is in trouble they have the means to win, if they are challenged," he said.
Delivering the third 'New India Lecture' organized by India's Consulate General in New York, Verma spoke at length on a wide range of topics pertaining to India-US relations, including H1B work visas, immigration as well as geo-political issues relating to China and Pakistan.
Verma, Vice Chairman and Partner at the Asia Group and a board member of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), said the India-US relationship has been a "slightly underperforming" one for decades.
"We have got some history that weighs us down. We still have some trust issues and neither side wants to be in an alliance," he said in his address on 'US-India: Natural Allies -- Absent the Alliance'.
Responding to a question on concerns among Indian workers over the H1B visa, Verma said last year about 1.1 million visas were issued to Indian nationals to come to the US in every category and out of these, about 50,000-60,000 were H1B visas.
"A very small percentage of the visa pool is for H1 B visas," he said.
Verma, who had served as the US Ambassador to India from 2014 to 2017, said he had conveyed to Indian CEOs and software companies that they have to be aware of the "political realities" in the US.
Verma, who has previously served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, noted that "some reforms are probably necessary", adding that the H1B visas are an important but "small part" of the overall people-to-people relationship between India and the US.
"I think US-India trade relationship is one relationship where you can get distinct wins on both sides," he said.
Highlighting the critical role of the diaspora in strengthening relations between India and the US, Verma said "we have to increase our people-to-people connections and we should be celebrating and standing up for the immigrants who come into this country and not looking at ways to shrink the pool of people coming here".
On the trajectory of India-US relations under the Trump administration, Verma said looking at Washington's all other bilateral relations, the one with India is "still on a pretty good trajectory" While things have been moving along on the strategic side, on the economic side there are some growing pains.
However, he said he is "more concerned about how we treat people who may not necessarily look like and sound like the rest of middle America and that's the part I keep the most eye out for in this environment".
Recalling the journey of his parents from India to the US, Verma said that immigrants and immigration have played a hugely important role in America.
It is not just one group of immigrants or immigrants who look a certain way but immigrants from all over the world and it's really important that we stand up for that group of people.