India, US to hold first 2-by-2 dialogue of defence, external affairs ministers in Washington in April
The broad focus will be “to enhance peace and stability across the Indo-Pacific region”, a term used increasingly for China-related threats in the area.world Updated: Jan 27, 2018 08:38 IST
India and the United States are expected to hold the inaugural edition of the simultaneous meetings of their defence and external affairs ministers — called two-by-two — here in Washington DC in April, according to officials involved in its planning and organisation.
Though the agenda for the meetings was still under construction — “not pinned down yet”, as an official said in Washington — the broad focus will be, as described in the original White House announcement last August “to enhance peace and stability across the Indo-Pacific region”, a term used increasingly for China-related threats in the area.
Also, the announcement issued after a phone call between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Tump on the eve of the Indian Independence Day had said “establishing a new 2-by-2 ministerial dialogue … will elevate their (the two countries’) strategic consultations”.
The inaugural edition of the ministerial dialogue was expected earlier to take place soon after the announcement, and probably in New Delhi, but did not because of scheduling issues, officials from both countries had said then.
The tentative dates, as first reported by Hindustan Times, are April 18 or 19, but an official announcement of the schedule and the venue is awaited.
Secretary of defense James Mattis, one of the two members of the 2-by-2 dialogue, went to India late September and met his newly appointed counterpart defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman; and called on the prime minister and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
Secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who couldn’t join Mattis, followed a month later in October, to meet his counterpart external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj — their second, they had their first meeting on the sidelines of the UN general assembly meetings in New York in September. He also met Modi and Doval.
These meetings might have served the purpose of a 2-by-2 ministerial dialogue but did not strictly, when the four would meet together with their respective delegations.
Apart from the Indo-Pacific region, fefense minister Sitharaman will, it is expected, discuss with her counterpart Mattis ongoing, and growing, defense ties including joint military exercises and defense trade, which would cover co-development and co-production of defense equipment.
On foreign policy, Swaraj and Tillerson (if he lasts that long, till April), are strongly expected to discuss China, which is a country of mutual concern as reflected in the last few joint statements coming out of summit-level meetings between the two countries, and terrorism, also called Pakistan.
The big question being asked by officials and observers: will President Trump, who is stacking up a reputation for surprises, swing by, walk-in on these meetings? US presidents are known for this, but only at White House meetings. Would he, then, call Sitharaman and Swaraj over for dinner?
First Published: Jan 27, 2018 07:47 IST