NEW DELHI: Two days before the 2+2 dialogue with the US begins September 6, sources in New Delhi described it as the biggest diplomatic engagement of the year.
The dialogue, which has been postponed twice earlier, will see External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman holding extensive talks with their US counterparts Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James Mattis.
"This is the highest level of political engagement that we have with the US, and it will be an annual affair, replacing the earlier strategic and commercial dialogue, though coincidentally on the Indian side, the people have remained the same, with Nirmala Sitharaman being commerce minister earlier," said a senior source in New Delhi.
"This dialogue, which the US has with its key strategic partners like the Australia and Japan, reflects the strategic importance that we have for the US, and from the Indian side, it reflects the pre-eminent position that US has in global affairs," he said.
"It is a recognition that we are an independent and independent player. So while there is convergence in several areas, there are differences in other areas, and hence the need to engage with us on a regular basis."According to the source, bilaterally the main issues on the agenda would be counterterrorism, defence and trade cooperation and immigration-related issues, while the two sides would also share perspectives on important global and regional issues like the Indo-Pacific region.
Noting that Prime Minister Modi had made India's position on the Indo-Pacific clear in his address at the Shangri La Security Dialogue in Singapore June 1, the source said that while the Americans had made several public pronouncements on the subject, "We have not heard directly from either of them on this, so we are awaiting their thoughts on the Indo-Pacific. Pompeo is coming from Islamabad, so we would want to hear his views on engagement with the new government in Pakistan. Issues like national security and terror straddle both ministries, so 2+2 helps bridge that gap. The four leaders will discuss all these issues in a period of great global change," he said.
Insisting that India did not usually discuss its bilateral dealings with other nations with third parties, the source said that the implications of US sanctions on arms purchases from Russia as well as oil purchases from Iran would be discussed since it impacted other nations as well.
However, the final decision would be taken "independently by the government of India, and it's not going to be made by US or Iran compulsions on us."Box: The two US secretaries, as well as the chairman of the US Join Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph F. Dunford, will arrive separately in New Delhi Wednesday evening. Pompeo will arrive from Islamabad, after talks with Pakistan's newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan.
On Thursday, there will be bilateral meetings between Swaraj and Sitharaman with their counterparts at their respective ministries in South and North Block, which will be followed by a delegation level meeting at the MEA office in Jawaharlal Nehru Bhavan. This will be followed by joint press conferences, after which Pompeo will leave for Washington. Mattis will stay on for a dinner hosted by Sitharaman, and leave early Friday.