Washington DC: United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis will hold talks with their Indian counterparts Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman on September 6, in New Delhi. Officials in Washington have termed the upcoming dialogue a ‘major opportunity’ to enhance the US engagement with India on critical diplomatic and security priorities.
On Thursday afternoon, a senior administration official said Secretary Pompeo’s travel in tandem with Secretary Mattis is a strong indication of the deepening strategic partnership between the US and India, and of India’s emergence as an important security provider in the region.
“India’s central role in our National Security Strategy is enshrined in the President’s National Security Strategy as well as the administration’s South Asia and Indo-Pacific strategies,” the official told reporters during a conference call.
One of the main objectives of the upcoming dialogue will be to build on recent momentum in defense relations and gauge what might be done next. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official added: “We expect progress and further deepening of ties between our two militaries and creating a framework for greater information sharing and interoperability. We are also eager to expand defense trade, which is estimated to reach 18 billion by 2019 from essentially zero in 2008.”
US President Donald Trump administration said the agenda at the dialogue will extend far and wide across the full gamut of defense issues. Still, to be sure, one of the key priorities will be concluding, or bringing close to the point of conclusion, several more foundational agreements that will facilitate US-India intelligence sharing. “We also will use the 2+2 to further advance our expanding counterterrorism cooperation,” the official further added.
The Iran sanctions issue will continue to be one of the enduring tension points in an otherwise sound relationship, a tight rope for leaders to walk during the 2+2 dialogue. When asked if the secondary sanctions on Iran would be a subject of discussion in New Delhi, the official added: “We have been discussing regularly with India issues related to both Iran and CAATSA and are looking, as with other partners, to identify ways to cooperate to support our policy goals with regard to both those issues.”
Experts expect that the 2+2 will see a faster pace of defense deals in the near term. The Trump administration has already made it abundantly clear that the two nations will discuss proposals to increase maritime domain awareness, defense innovation.
“We are looking at potentially collaborating with some of our defense innovation efforts in the United States, our Defense Innovation Unit for example, and discuss proposals to enhance bilateral defense cooperation. So those would be just an example of some of the proposals that we are going to discuss at the meeting,” the senior administration official added.
The senior official briefly touched on the economic relationship with India, and said that the economic relationship remains a key pillar of the India-US partnership.
“The United States and India expanded bilateral trade by 12 billion last year, reaching 126 billion in 2017. We want to continue to grow the trade relationship to our mutual benefit, but to ensure the trade is fair and reciprocal. It is no surprise that tariff and non-tariff barriers have been the subject of longstanding concern, and the US Government is working with the Government of India to address market access challenges,” added the official.