First 2+2 Dialogue with India important opportunity to enhance engagement: US

US secretary of state Micheal Pompeo and secretary of defence James Mattis will travel to New Delhi on September 6 for the 2+2 Dialogue.

world Updated: Aug 21, 2018 23:46 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
2+2 Dialogue,US-India,US
Indian and US national flags flutter in front of the Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi.(REUTERS)

The US has said that the upcoming 2+2 ministerial will focus on operationalising the “major defence partner” designation for India, which will go beyond mere defence acquisition and trade.

Calling India an “all-weather partner”, Alice Wells, head of the South and Central Asia bureau at the state department, said, “We look ahead to how to ensure that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open.”

“What we’re looking for at the upcoming 2+2 ministerial is to discuss how do we operationalise India’s status as a major defence partner,” Wells said on Monday at a news briefing to preview her upcoming visit to Hanoi for the Indian Ocean Conference.

“Our partnership is really rooted in values and shared democratic values and a commitment to a rules-based order,” she added.

Indian defence and foreign ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Sushma Swaraj are scheduled to host their American counterparts James Mattis and Mike Pompeo at the inaugural 2+2 ministerial on September 6 in New Delhi.

Wells said officials of the two countries will discuss “how do we take this partnership to a new level so that it’s not just going to be defence acquisitions but really a way of framing how we see challenges and how we want to be able to respond together to address these challenges.”

“It is an important opportunity to discuss and enhance our engagement on a range of diplomatic and security priorities and really is an indication of the deepening strategic partnership that we enjoy with India,” she said.

The ‘major defence partner’ designation given by the US to India in 2016 is a new addition to phrases used by Indian and American officials to describe bilateral ties. Late prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had called the two countries “natural allies”. Former president Barack Obama described ties as the “defining relationship of the 21st century”. President Donald Trump and his administration have said India plays a “central role” in US national security.

Defence trade between India and the US has gone up from zero in 2008 to $18 billion in the current year, with the two countries considering co-production and co-development facilitated by easing of US export control rules—India was recently elevated by the US to the level of its Nato allies for sale of sensitive and potentially dual use American technology.

India is close to signing a defence-related enabling pact, also described as foundational agreement, with the US called the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement after nearly 15 years of negotiations. COMCASA will enable India to acquire advanced secure and encrypted communication systems from the US.

Trade and continuing attempts to sort differences could also figure at the 2+2 ministerial, though it’s not covered by defence or foreign affairs.

In her remarks, Wells indicated that differences remain. “Tariffs and non-tariff barriers have been a subject of longstanding concern, and intellectual property rights as well.

“And so we’re continuing a very intensive dialogue with the Indian government on how do we address these irritants and unlock the trade that is of great interest to US firms when they look at the Indian market and its potential,” she said.

First Published: Aug 21, 2018 18:30 IST