New Delhi: India and the US on Thursday held their first 2+2 dialogue during which they signed a long-negotiated defence pact under which critical and encrypted defence technologies will be provided to the Indian Army by Washington, and also discussed key issues like cross-border terrorism, India’s NSG bid and the contentious H-1B visa issue.Also Read - Ramiz Raja Puts His Weight Behind Afghanistan, Says Funding Will Continue To Support Players

During the talks, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had with US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis, the two countries also decided to set up hotlines between them. Also Read - BAN vs PAK: Good News For Bangladesh Even After Losing First Test to Pakistan

Addressing a joint press conference, Swaraj expressed satisfaction over the agenda of the inaugural dialogue while giving the details of the deliberations. Also Read - Pakistan Crush Bangladesh by Eight Wickets; Take 1-0 Lead in Test Series

Signing of COMCASA – a Major Upgrade For Indian Army

The ministers welcomed the signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) agreement, with Pompeo terming it a “milestone” in the relationship between the two nations.

“Signing of Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) will enable India to access advanced technologies from the US,” Sitharaman said during the joint press briefing.

The COMCASA will facilitate India to obtain critical defence technologies from the US, and access critical communication network to ensure interoperability among the US and the Indian armed forces.

It will also allow the installation of high-security US communication equipment on defence platforms being sourced from the US.

Message to Pakistan Over Terrorism

India and the US asked Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terror attacks and expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of cross-border terror strikes, including those on Mumbai, Pathankot and Uri.

“The ministers announced their intent to increase information-sharing efforts on known or suspected terrorists and to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2396 on returning foreign terrorist fighters,” a joint statement issued after the talks said.

“The ministers denounced any use of terrorist proxies in the region, and in this context, they called on Pakistan to ensure that the territory under its control is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries,” it said.

Addressing a joint press conference, Swaraj said the Indo-US counter-terrorism cooperation has acquired a new “qualitative edge and purpose”.

“We welcomed the recent designations of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists by the United States. They underscore the international community’s scrutiny over the threat of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which has affected India and the United States alike.

“In the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 attacks, we recognised the importance of justice and retribution for the masterminds behind this terrorist attack,” she said.

Sitharaman, in her remarks, said India and the US were committed to work together to combat the “persistent threat of terrorism” and other shared security challenges.

The ministers committed to enhance their ongoing cooperation in multilateral fora such as the UN and Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and reaffirmed their support for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that will advance and strengthen the framework for global cooperation and reinforce the message that no cause or grievance justifies terrorism, the joint statement said.

“The ministers welcomed the launch of a bilateral dialogue on designation of terrorists in 2017, which is strengthening cooperation and action against terrorist groups, including Al-Qaida, ISIS, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-ul Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, D-Company, and their affiliates,” it said.

The two sides further reaffirmed their commitment to ongoing and future cooperation to ensure a stable cyberspace environment and to prevent cyber attacks.

Indo-US 2+2 Dialogue: Defence co-op, Trade Ties on Agenda; Iranian Oil Deal, Russian Defence Purchase Also on List

Indo-US 2+2 Dialogue: Defence co-op, Trade Ties on Agenda; Iranian Oil Deal, Russian Defence Purchase Also on List

Swaraj said India recognises the value of the Terrorists Designations Dialogue established last year as well as other mechanisms to promote cooperation in counter-terrorism and homeland security.

“We also discussed the situation in South Asia in some detail. India supports President Trump’s South Asia Policy. His call for Pakistan to stop its policy of supporting cross-border terrorism finds resonance with us,” she said.

Swaraj said the efforts by India and the US in promoting an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan government-controlled reconciliation process were also discussed.

H-1B Visa Issue

India urged the US to take a “balanced and sensitive” view on the issue of proposed changes in America’s H-1B visa policy, saying it could affect the people-to-people links that are crucial for energising bilateral ties.

“I have requested Secretary Pompeo to adopt a balanced and sensitive view on the issue of proposed changes in the H-1 B visa regime as this could effect the people-to-people links which are important for energising ties,” said Swaraj, addressing the joint press conference after the 2+2 dialogue.

She said that in view of the friendship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump, Indians feel the US will not do anything against their interests.

“I have asked him (Pompeo) that he should make sure that people continue to have this confidence,” she said.

The Trump administration is pushing for a reform of the H-1B system, saying some IT companies were abusing the US work visas to deny jobs to American workers.

The US, however, had recently extended by over five months the temporary suspension of premium processing for H1-B visas as part of its efforts to clear the backlog.

In July, a report by an American non-profit body claimed that there has been a substantial increase in denial of H-1B visa petitions of Indians by the US Immigration authority as compared to people of other nationalities.

Indo-US Defence Ties

Defence Secretary James Mattis reaffirmed the strategic importance of India’s designation as a Major Defence Partner (MDP) of the US and said that the Trump administration was committed to expand and mutually agreed upon steps to strengthen defense ties further and promote better defense and security coordination and cooperation.

“They welcomed the inclusion of India by the United States among the top tier of countries entitled to license-free exports, re-exports, and transfers under License Exception Strategic Trade Authorization (STA-1) and also committed to explore other means to support further expansion in two-way trade in defense items and defense manufacturing supply chain linkages,” read the joint statement.

Asserting that counterterrorism cooperation between India and the US has acquired a new qualitative edge and purpose, Swaraj said they have agreed to deepen ties in international forums like the United Nations and the Financial Action Task Force.

India’s NSG Bid

Sushma Swaraj said both sides have agreed on working together towards New Delhi’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). “We have agreed to speed up the process of India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group,” Swaraj said.

While China has been blocking India’s entry into NSG asserting that it was not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the US has backed New Delhi’s quest for membership.

India had reiterated its desire to enter NSG based on its credentials during the Sino-Indian strategic dialogue in Beijing in June this year.

Economic Ties

The two nations pledged to expand their bilateral trade and economic partnership with a view to promoting investment and job creation.

The two nations also agreed to work collectively with other partner countries in the Indo-Pacific region to support transparent, responsible and sustainable debt financing practices in infrastructure development.

“Both sides committed to further expanding and balancing the trade and economic partnership consistent with their leaders’ 2017 joint statement, including by facilitating trade, improving market access, and addressing issues of interest to both sides,” the statement said.

They welcomed the ongoing exchanges between the Ministry of Commerce of India and the Office of the United States Trade Representative and hoped for mutually acceptable outcomes.

India-US bilateral trade is estimated at around USD 74.5 billion.