India hopes to arrive at a “mutually workable solution” with the Maldives that will allow Indian troops to remain stationed there, the External Affairs Ministry said on Thursday.

This comes amid Malé having asked New Delhi to withdraw its soldiers from the island nation by March 15.

India is the only foreign power with a military presence in the Maldives. Around 70 Indian defence personnel maintain radar stations and surveillance aircraft in the archipelago. Indian warships also help patrol the Maldives’ exclusive economic zone. This collaboration is of strategic importance to New Delhi amid its geopolitical competition with China in the Indian Ocean region.

“Both sides held enable continued operation of Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian and medvac [medical evacuation] services to the people of Maldives,” the ministry’s spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal told reporters. “The next meeting is to be held in India to take discussion forward.”

For newly elected Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu, who is seen as being pro-China, removing the Indian military from his country was a key election promise. After preliminary negotiations in October, he asked India to withdraw its troops from the country. In December, he claimed that India had agreed to withdraw its soldiers.

However, the Indian government maintained that discussions on the issue were still ongoing.

The two sides have formed a “core group” to negotiate Malé’s demand. Its first meeting was held on Sunday at the foreign ministry headquarters in the Maldivian capital and was attended by Indian High Commissioner Munu Mahawar.

“In the core group, we had detailed discussions on several aspects of the bilateral relationship,” Jaiswal said on Thursday. “We remain committed to doing all things that we can do as a development partner of Maldives, in keeping with their priorities.”

Muizzu made his first official state visit to China earlier this month amid a diplomatic spat with India. This was a digression from the norm, as India is typically the first country that new Maldivian presidents visit after assuming power. Muizzu had first requested a visit to New Delhi but was turned down, according to reports.

Earlier this month, a diplomatic spat was triggered between India and the Maldives after three ministers of the island nation posted on social media allegedly derogatory remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Lakshadweep, which is just 70 nautical miles away from Maldives.

Meanwhile, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday met his Maldivian counterpart Moosa Zameer in Uganda’s Kampala to discuss ties between the two countries.

“We exchanged views on the ongoing high-level discussions on the withdrawal of Indian military personnel,” Zameer said. “We are committed to further strengthening and expanding our cooperation.”