India, US 2+2 meet set for October 27
Defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar will host US defence secretary Mark Esper and secretary of state Mike Pompeo in New Delhi on October 27 for a rare personal meeting amid the pandemic, during which the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) is on the cards to facilitate sharing of satellite and sensor data.Updated: Oct 22, 2020, 02:43 IST
The third 2+2 ministerial dialogue next week will see India and the US consolidating their diplomatic and security ties, including institutionalised intelligence-sharing and efforts to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar will host US defence secretary Mark Esper and secretary of state Mike Pompeo in New Delhi on October 27 for a rare personal meeting amid the pandemic, during which the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) is on the cards to facilitate sharing of satellite and sensor data.
As the relationship with India has bipartisan backing in the US, the meeting is expected to build on past gains even though it is being held days ahead of the US presidential election on November 3.
Announcing the meeting on Wednesday, the external affairs ministry said Pompeo and Esper will be in India during October 26-27 for the dialogue, who agenda includes “all bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest”. The first 2+2 dialogue was held in New Delhi in 2018 and the second in Washington in 2019.
Pompeo told the media in Washington that during the upcoming visit, which will also take him to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia, he would focus on working with the four countries “to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific”.
“I’m especially looking forward to doing that with secretary Esper in our 2+2 ministerial dialogue with our Indian friends,” he said. “I’m sure that my meetings will also include discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.”
Speaking at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday, Esper didn’t rule out the possibility of the two sides signing an anticipated maritime information-sharing agreement.
He added that India will be “the most consequential partner for us...in the Indo-Pacific...in the century”. He also spoke of India facing “Chinese aggression in the Himalayas, specifically along that Line of Actual Control (LAC)”.
BECA is considered the fourth and last of the foundational agreements to be signed by India and the US. The two sides have been sharing real time intelligence under the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which was signed in 2018. The two countries signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002 and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity there is a strong possibility the two sides could finalise a pact for an institutionalised relationship between the Defence Intelligence Agencies of the two sides. This will allow the two sides to share tri-services intelligence, including developments ranging from the South China Sea to the Himalayas. This proposal has been hanging fire for some years without any results.
BECA, which is yet to be cleared by the Indian cabinet, will enable India to buy armed unmanned aerial and underwater platforms from the US, which will be loaded with neighbourhood terrain maps for pin-point targeting. The maps will also help in precision flying of US-made platforms acquired by India and enhance the capability of platforms such as Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters.
A decision to acquire armed drones has been communicated to the US, and the two countries are now going beyond exercises into other domains such as space and undersea.
The two sides are also expected to discuss China’s aggression in Ladakh and its muscle flexing in the South China Sea, as well as counter-measures that the Quad needs to put in place to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific for global trade, the people said.
The troubled peace process in Afghanistan and terrorism emanating from Pakistan will also be on the agenda as New Delhi fears more violence in Kabul after the anticipated pullout of American forces. Though India participated in the opening of the intra-Afghan talks in Doha, it is concerned about the hold of Pakistan’s security establishment on the Taliban.
Esper referred to the first tri-service military exercise, Tiger Triumph, the USS Nimitz’s drills with the Indian Navy and the first defence cyber dialogue in September, and said: “As we expand our collaboration into new domains...these efforts will strengthen what may become one of the most consequential partnerships of the 21st century.”
Separately, a bipartisan group of 14 US senators have expressed “strong support” for India’s decision to include Australia in the Malabar naval exercise with the US and Japan, saying in a letter to India’s ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu that it is an “invaluable” move from an operational perspective.
“From an operational perspective, the addition of such a uniquely capable and stalwart partner, like Australia, to this naval exercise is invaluable, providing increased interoperability, strengthening threat assessment abilities and enhancing the maritime roles and missions of the four naval powers,” the letter said.
The signatories included John Corny and Mark Warner, the Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus, and Republicans Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley.