2+2 talks: India, US sign key defence pact, discuss NSG bid, H-1B visas
New Delhi: The United States and India held talks to deepen political and security ties on Thursday, signing a crucial agreement on military communications that could lead to increased US arms sales to New Delhi.
The Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (Comcasa) was signed in Delhi after the first ‘2+2’ talks between external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman with US secretary of state Michael R Pompeo and defence secretary James Mattis. Earlier Swaraj and Pompeo had held bilateral talks.
Comcasa, which will allow the militaries of the two countries to securely communicate with each other, had been stalled for years because of India’s concerns that it would open up its communications network to the US military.
Addressing a joint press conference, Swaraj expressed satisfaction over the agenda of the inaugural dialogue while Sitharaman said that the momentum in the bilateral defence partnership “has imbued a tremendous positive energy that has elevated India-US relations to unprecedented heights”.
“In today’s meeting, we reaffirmed to cooperate in every possible way to ensure peace, prosperity and development,” the defence matter added, as per news agency ANI.
Pompeo said the accord was a “major step” forward that officials have previously said would allow the US to transfer high-tech equipment such as armed surveillance drones. New Delhi has been seeking the drones to monitor the Indian Ocean where China, a close ally of Pakistan, has been making repeated forays in recent years, reported Reuters.
Experts believe the signing of the agreement could also reduce the chances of the United States imposing sanctions on India for looking to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.
India and the United States also agreed to open a hotline between their foreign and defence chiefs and hold joint exercises involving the air force, navy and the army off the eastern Indian coast in 2019.
The two sides also discussed other key issues, including cross-border terrorism, India’s bid for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and contentious H-1B visa issue.
At the press conference, Swaraj said that the dialogue reflected the desire of leadership of the two countries to further elevate the bilateral strategic communication on cross-cutting defence and security issues.
“The recent decision by the US to put India in the list of countries eligible for Strategic Trade Authorization Tier-I License Exemption reflects India’s robust and responsible export control policies. In our meeting today, we also agreed to work together to secure India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group at the earliest.”
About her bilateral meeting with Pompeo before the 2+2 dialogue, she said they reviewed the direction of the Indo-US relations in recent months and exchanged views on a number of regional issues of shared concern, reported PTI.
Terming the rapidly growing trade and investment ties as an important element of bilateral relationship, Swaraj said this growth is giving rise to new opportunities and a basis for more intense economic engagement which supports development of manufacturing, promotes knowledge and innovation, creates jobs and provides critical resources for growth.
“I sought Secretary Pompeo’s support to nurture our people-to-people links. Specifically, I conveyed our expectation for a non-discriminatory and predictable approach to the H-1B visa regime, given its high impact on innovation, competitiveness and people-to-people partnership, all of which are a vital source of strength for our relationship,” Swaraj said.
She also noted that there was a growing convergence of views, including on the Indo-Pacific, during the discussion among the four ministers.
“We see the Indo-Pacific as a free, open and inclusive concept, with ASEAN centrality at the core and defined by a common rules-based order that both our countries are pursuing,” the minister said, adding India welcomed the US interest in expanding its economic footprint in the region as they “complement our own efforts”.
Asserting that counterterrorism cooperation between India and the US has acquired a new qualitative edge and purpose, Swaraj said they have agreed to deepen ties in international forums like the United Nations and the Financial Action Task Force.
“We welcomed the recent designations of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists by the US. They underscore the international community’s scrutiny over the threat of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which has affected India and the US alike. On the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 attacks, we recognized the importance of justice and retribution for the masterminds behind this terrorist attack,” Swaraj said.
“India supports President Trump’s South Asia Policy. His call for Pakistan to stop its policy of supporting cross-border terrorism finds resonance with us,” she added.
The two sides also discussed the ongoing efforts by India and the US in promoting an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan government-controlled reconciliation process in the country.