NEW DELHI: The India-US strategic partnership got a significant shot in the arm with the conclusion of the first 2+2 Dialogue in New Delhi on Thursday, particularly with the signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) that will facilitate access to advanced and encrypted American defence systems and enable India to optimally utilise its existing US-origin platforms.
They two sides also pledged to work together on regional and global issues, including in bilateral, trilateral, and quadrilateral formats.
Addressing the media jointly after the meeting, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman, US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis stressed that common defence and security concerns were the main drivers of the relationship, although ramping up trade and commerce, particularly in the field of energy, as well as people-to-people connections were also part of the discussions. “Specifically, I conveyed our expectation for a non-discriminatory and predictable approach to the H1B visa regime, given its high impact on innovation, competitiveness and people-to-people partnership,” said Swaraj in her statement.
Terrorism was also a major part of the discussions. “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,” said a joint statement released after the meeting.
“On the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attack, they called on Pakistan to bring to justice expeditiously the perpetrators of the Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri and other cross-border terrorist attacks. 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-Qaeda, ISIS, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-ul Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, D-Company and their affiliates,” it said.
None of the four leaders, however, made any mention of the impact of US sanctions on India’s decision to buy the S400 Triumf air defence missile system from Russia and the oil and gas imports from Iran.
Privately, however, an official admitted that “detailed, animated but courteous discussions” had taken place on these subjects, but were inconclusive and the talks would continue.
While no one mentioned China, a lot was said about ensuring a free and rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region, where Beijing has been aggressively staking claims, particularly in the South China Sea. In a veiled reference to the China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the joint statement said: “Noting the importance of infrastructure and connectivity for the Indo-Pacific region, both sides emphasised the need to work collectively with other partner countries to support transparent, responsible, and sustainable debt financing practices in infrastructure development.”
“We see the Indo-Pacific as a free, open and inclusive concept, with ASEAN centrality at the core and defined by a common rules-based order that both our countries are pursuing," said Swaraj.
• Secure hotline between Minister of External Affairs of India and the US Secretary of State, and between the Minister of Defence of India and the US Secretary of Defense
• First tri-services joint exercise to be held off the eastern coast of India in 2019
• Negotiations on an Industrial Security Annex for closer cooperation and collaboration
• Memorandum of Intent between the US Defense Innovation Unit and the Indian Defence Innovation Organization — Innovation for Defence Excellence to encourage innovation
• Ensure a stable cyberspace environment and to prevent cyber-attacks