India and US hold inaugural 2+2 talks in New Delhi

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary Jim Mattis arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday for the inaugural Indo-US 2+2 talks which was finalised during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington last year.

india Updated: Sep 06, 2018 13:23 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India US 2+2 talks,India,US
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman (right) with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis (left) pose for a group photo before the start of India-US 2 + 2 Dialogue, in New Delhi, on September 6, 2018.(PTI)

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman held talks with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday for the inaugural two-plus-two dialogue, which is set to see the two sides deepening their military and security ties.

In her opening remarks, Swaraj said she was confident that the outcome of the talks will help unleash the untapped potential of the relationship between the two nations and further elevate the level of engagement.

She said there has been significant progress in all key areas of cooperation between the two countries.

In his remarks, Pompeo said both sides should continue to ensure freedom of the seas and work towards peaceful resolutions of maritime disputes.

He also stressed promoting market-based economics and good governance.

“Our two nations are united by shared values of democracy, respect for individual rights and a shared commitment to freedom,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Swaraj and Sitharaman held separate meetings with Pompeo and Mattis respectively.

Official sources said a number of key bilateral issues were discussed during the meetings.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar called the meeting between Swaraj and Pompeo a “productive” engagement.

He said the two sides took stock of “impressive strides” in the bilateral relationship and discussed steps to take the relationship to an “even higher trajectory”.

On the agenda

In their discussions, India is expected to urge the United States to take a lenient view on its purchase of S-400 Triumph air defence missile systems from Russia, India’s biggest defence partner and one of its most trusted allies, and oil imports from Iran.

Speaking to the travelling US media, secretary of state Pompeo said that issues like India buying Russian missile defence system and Iranian oil export will “certainly come up, but I don’t think they’ll be the primary focus of what it is we are trying to accomplish here”.

India, which is aware that the US is unlikely to give it a blanket waiver for arms deals with Russia, is hoping the country will give one for the purchase of S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, thereby giving it immunity from a 2017 US law that requires the US president to penalise countries that have “significant transaction” with Russia’s defence sector.

“We hope that they understand that India has a strategic partnership with other countries too,” said an official.

Defence minister Sitharaman said in July that India and Russia are close to concluding the S-400 deal and that New Delhi would go forward with the deal, adding that the new US law isn’t binding on it.

Indian officials have subsequently told their US counterparts that they have been diversifying the country’s defence purchases. The government recently approved a $2-billion government-to-government deal for the purchase of 24 naval helicopters from US firm Lockheed. Turkey, a NATO ally of the US, is also planning to buy the S-400 air defence system.

India is also in discussions with the US on the import of Iran crude, which falls afoul of the sanctions imposed by America on the West Asian nation. The person cited above said 83% of India’s total oil requirement is met by import, and that of this, 24% comes from Iran. “It is an important issue for us. Iran is a major source of crude import for us. We will take a decision free from external pressures,” the person said.

The focus of the meeting itself will be on the two countries working together in the Indo-Pacific region. Despite declared intentions, the contours of the Indo-Pacific cooperation between the two sides under the Trump administration is yet to be known.

“India’s global strategic partnership with the United States has overcome the hesitations of history and continues to deepen across the extraordinary breadth of our relationship. It has assumed a new significance in the changing world,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said at the Shangri La dialogue in Singapore recently.

The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), a foundational defence pact which is expected to be signed soon, would also be a key highlight of the meeting. It aims to give a legal framework for the transfer of highly sensitive communication security equipment from the US to India that would streamline and facilitate interoperability between their armed forces.

COMCASA is one of the three foundational agreements for a seamless military relationship between the two sides. India had signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in August 2016, which provides for the military of each country. The third one in Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) is yet to gather steam.

(With PTI inputs)

First Published: Sep 06, 2018 12:51 IST