External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James Mattis in New Delhi for the 2 plus 2 dialogue on Thursday. The two countries also announced their readiness to begin negotiations on an industrial Security Annex (ISA) that would support closer defence industry.
At stake was Washington's goal to increase security cooperation, including arms sales, with New Delhi at a time when India is balancing its relationship with the USA with ties to BRICs partners China and Russian Federation. The pact "will facilitate access to advanced defence systems and enable India to optimally utilize its existing US-origin platforms", according to a joint statement.
The drills would be a first of sorts - the two countries' forces have not previously trained simultaneously in the air, on the land and at sea. Alice Wells, the principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia of the US State Department, said the US is willing to work with New Delhi on projects outside India and both had partnered in third countries.
The agreement was signed during a meeting in New Delhi among U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and their Indian counterparts. Defense cooperation "has emerged as the most significant dimension of our strategic partnership and a key driver of our overall bilateral relationship", she said Thursday. The Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA) was signed between the two sides. In a first, the two nations also chose to conduct a tri-services joint exercise off the eastern coast of India in 2019. "We have also discussed the H-1B visa issue".
The US has been trying to enhance military ties with India, which is seen as an effort to counter-balance China's growing military assertiveness in the region.
China was the first foreign buyer to seal a government-to-government deal with Russian Federation in 2014 to procure the lethal missile system and Moscow has already started delivery of unknown number of the S-400 missile systems to Beijing.
None of the officials who spoke after the talks made any reference to where things stand on that issue.
The US has told India and other countries to cut oil imports from Iran to "zero" by 4 November or face sanctions, making it clear that there would be no waivers to anyone. It already has sold US Apache attack helicopters and other gear, and is negotiating to sell armed drones to India.
The talks were first meant to be held in April and then in June but both were postponed, triggering speculation of a rift.
Pompeo said the "2+2" talks were "forward looking".
Pompeo denied he had anything to do with the letter.
"We will discuss anything that they bring up, and certainly, there'll be issues we bring up", he had said. The Trump administration has fumbled an opportunity to cultivate better ties with India, which has always been a tricky USA relationship.
Washington will consider waivers for Iranian oil buyers but they must eventually halt imports as sanctions are imposed on Tehran, Pompeo says. The mechanism was agreed upon by US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the phone in August past year, but will only materialize after being cancelled twice for various reasons in April and July.
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