NEW DELHI: The dialogue between the Indian ministers of External Affairs and Defence and their American counterparts, the Secretaries of State and Defence, was conceived during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington in June last year.
The idea was to ensure that any bottlenecks in bilateral relations were quickly tackled at the highest level.
It was first tentatively scheduled for mid-April this year, but was postponed when Trump fired his secretary of state Rex Tillerson March 13. Subsequently, after the nomination of former CIA Mike Pompeo as his successor, it was supposed to be held July 6 in Washington.
However, barely days before External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman were to travel to Washington to meet Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis, Pompeo called Swaraj on June 27 and asked for a postponement due to ‘unavoidable reasons.’
This sparked speculation that bilateral relations had taken a hit over US sanctions on Russia and Iran, which impacted India’s defence and energy needs –particularly the procurement of the S400 Triumf anti-missile system from Russia, and oil and gas supplies from Iran.
It also raised questions over Chabahar port in Iran, which India is helping build as a gateway into landlocked Afghanistan and then onwards to the Central Asian states.
Washington, however, was quick to clarify that the only reason for the postponement was because Pompeo had to make an unscheduled trip to North Korea, which had agreed to discuss de-nuclearisation following a historic meeting between Trump and Pyongyang’s strongman Kim Jong Un in Singapore June 12.
On Friday, while announcing the new dates for the 2+2 dialogue, Sitharaman also declared that the Triumf anti-missile deal was likely to be closed soon.