2-by-2 talks: India to seek upgrade in US defence ties
India is trying to get faster access to dual-use (civilian and defence) and defence technologies from the US and will push for an upgradation in its status in the so-called Strategic Trade Authorization or STA license exemption regime in the April 18 meeting with the US in Washington.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman will be meeting their US counterparts, Rex Tillerson and James Mattis, next month in Washington and India’s thinking is that the upgradation of its status is only in keeping with its relationship with the US.
US and Indian diplomats told Hindustan Times that both sides are working towards making New Delhi a Tier one STA license exemption partner along with 36 of Washington’s closest allies in that group so that hurdles in accessing high end space, aeronautics, defence and software technologies are removed.
India as of now is in Tier II, a group of eight countries that includes Albania, Malta and South Africa. For the past year, India has been reminding the US that if it considers New Delhi a close ally then the country should have faster clearances, non-intrusive end-use verification and access when it comes to top end technologies.
“Upgradation of India to Tier 1 of STA will be the first step towards pushing the bilateral relationship to a new level. This issue will be taken up in the two-plus-two dialogue and there are indications of forward momentum being recorded in the first round of dialogue,” said a senior Indian government official who asked not to be identified. The two plus two dialogue will be preceded by the India-US forum meeting in New Delhi on April 6-7, which will be co-chaired by former foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and US State Department senior officials.
Although Washington has verbally assured New Delhi that it is willing to part with top-end defence technologies including weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles and front-line fighter jets, South Block officials believe that access to these technologies will be mired in red tape under the current STA regime. “This is not limited only to military hardware but also allowing access to dual use technologies which can be used for strengthening Indian missile capabilities now that India is a member of Missile Technology Control Regime and Wassenaar Agreement,” said a second Indian government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
It is learnt that both the countries are preparing for crucial dialogue with the realization that there is need to move forward. During the dialogue, the principals will be discussing the Indo-Pacific region with a security architecture to secure the eastern Indian Ocean, in consultation with Japan, Australia and ASEAN countries.
While the final agenda for the meeting is still being discussed, terrorism in context of Pakistan and Afghanistan will also be on the table with Washington supporting India’s idea of using the Chabahar route to stabilize Kabul. India and Afghanistan see Chabahar port (in Iran) as a way to boost their trade, leaving Pakistan out of the equation.