New Delhi: India and the US will aim at further solidifying their global strategic partnership in the inaugural two-plus-two dialogue that will take place today. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo arrived in the national capital on Thursday. Also Read - How Does PM Modi Stay Fit During Lockdown? He Says 'Will Share Videos On Social Media Soon'

“In a special gesture symbolising our warm and friendly relationship, EAM @SushmaSwaraj received United States Secretary of State @SecPompeo at the airport on his first visit to India,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in a tweet. Also Read - Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana: Nirmala Sitharaman Unveils Rs 1 Lakh 70 Thousand Crore Package. Who Will Benefit?

Under the new framework finalised last year, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will hold talks with their counterparts – the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The separate bilateral meetings will be followed with the delegation-level two-plus-two talks. Also Read - Sensex Surges Over 1,200 Pts With Gains in Banking, IT Shares, Nifty Tops 8,600 Mark

While counter-terrorism, defence cooperation and trade are likely to be the key highlights of the 2+2 dialogue, Pompeo has said that “big and strategic” items will be discussed during the dialogue, further asserting the primary focus of the meeting was not about India’s plans to buy a Russian missile defence system and oil from Iran.

““They are (missile system purchase from Russia and oil from Iran) part of the conversation. They are part of the relationship. They will certainly come up, but I don’t think they will be the primary focus of what it is we are trying to accomplish here,” Pompeo said Tuesday to a question from reporters who are travelling with him to Pakistan and then to India.

As Secretary Pompeo arrived here from Islamabad, India will also try to get his view about his engagement with the new government in Pakistan headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, official sources said.

India is also expected to convey to the US during the dialogue that it is going ahead to procure from Russia five S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems for nearly USD 4.5 billion.

In the talks, the sources said, India will also try to “sensitise” the US that any cut in import of Iranian oil in compliance with the US sanctions may impact the country’s overall economy as the crude oil from that country is much cheaper.

The 2+2 dialogue was deferred twice and Pompeo blamed himself for the cancellation of the talks for the second time. He said, “I regret it was my fault the second time. I had to travel to Pyongyang. But Secretary Mattis and I are both looking forward to this. We have a true strategic partner who is our only designated major defence partner, with whom we have a great relationship and who is very important to our success in our Indo-Pacific strategy. (It’s an) enormous country with incredible opportunity and capacity for wealth creation. We hope we can find opportunities to continue to expand the relationship not only diplomatic and military-to-military but a good set of business relationships as well.”

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford will also be part of the US delegation.

Twelve officials from each side are expected to attend the talks which will be followed by a luncheon meeting.

In the afternoon, Swaraj, Sitharaman, Pompeo and Mattis will call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The sources said the focus of the talks will be to lift the strategic engagement between the two countries to a “whole of government approach” covering a wide range of areas for cooperation.

Significantly boosting defence and security cooperation, including in areas of co-development of military platforms, will be a priority, they said.

Referring to India’s yet to be inked S-400 missile deal with Russia, the sources said it was for the US to decide on what steps it may take.

India’s position on the issue has been that it will go ahead with the deal notwithstanding American sanctions on military transactions with Moscow.

On US sanctions on import of Iranian oil, the sources said India will also explain to the US delegation its position on the issue, including how the import has been crucial for India’s energy security.

In May, the US withdrew from the landmark Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed the sanctions that had been suspended in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Iran is India’s third largest oil supplier after Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The US’ sanctions on import of Iranian petroleum products will be effective from November 4.

India and the US will also attempt to firm up a long-negotiated agreement which will provide for obtaining critical and encrypted defence technologies by the Indian military from the US, official sources said.

Both sides will discuss the long-pending Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA), the sources said.

The COMCASA will help India obtain critical and encrypted defence technologies for Indian defence platforms from the US.

The sources said ways to bolster cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and ways to deal with challenge of terrorism will figure prominently in the talks.

The US delegation will arrive here tomorrow. While Secretary Pompeo will leave from India Thursday evening, Secretary Mattis will depart on Friday.

Defence Minister Sitharaman will host a dinner for him on Thursday evening.

The 2+2 Dialogue is taking place amid Chinese People’s Liberation Army flexing its muscles in the Indo-Pacific region.

The US said in April that its vision of a free and open Indo Pacific, which is supported by India, is not so much about countering any particular country.

China claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the area.

China recently deployed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-surface missile systems in the disputed South China Sea amid frequent forays by US naval and surveillance aircraft over the region to assert the freedom of navigation especially around the artificial islands built by China, where it has also established garrisons.

(With inputs from agencies)