After several scheduling issues, India and the US are slated to hold the first two-plus-two dialogue — between their foreign and defence ministers — in Washington on July 6, officials familiar with the plans said. The dialogue announced after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Trump at the White House in August 2017 was tentatively scheduled for April 1819 this year.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman will travel to Washington to meet their counterparts, US secretary of State Mike Pompeo and defence secretary Jim Mattis, to discuss a host of bilateral issues as well as regional developments.The dialogue announced after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Trump at the White House in August 2017 was tentatively scheduled for April 18-19 this year.
In March, both foreign sectary Vijay Gokhale and defence secretary Sanjay Mitra were in Washington to prepare ground for the dialogue against the background of the exit of then US secretary of state Rex Tillerson. “But the preparations for the two plus two dialogue were on and it was only because of the scheduling issues that the dialogue got postponed to July”, said one of the officials cited in the first instance. The two sides also looked for suitable dates in June but couldn’t come up with a mutually convenient date for hosting the dialogue, this person added, asking not to be identified.
“India’s global strategic partnership with the United States has overcome the hesitations of history and continues to deepen across the extraordinary breadth of our relationship. It has assumed new significance in the changing world”, Prime Minister Naredra Modi had said at the Shangri La dialogue in Singapore recently. The first dialogue takes place after Prime Minister Modi’s successful informal summits with President Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia.
India is likely to discuss with the US, its concerns over the impact of US sanctions on deals with both Russia and Iran, an official said. The sanctions on Tehran are of concern to India as Iran remains India’s third largest source of oil. India has also made substantial investments in the Chabahar port in Iran which connects India to Central Asia via Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. The sanctions on Russia are set to hit India’s defence purchases and New Delhi has already request for an exemption.
A second official , said on condition of anonymity that cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism would be a key focus area in the meetings. “In the Af-Pak (Afghanistan-Pakistan) region, we are on the same page. The US also agrees that Pakistan has to take more action against cross –border terrorism and rein in terrorist groups that operate from its soil and destablise the entire region,” added this person.
Another key issue for India is the proposed changes in the US visa regime that could affect tens of thousands of Indians. Meanwhile, the US has been pushing India to sign two foundational agreements for what it terms as “additional and longlasting defence co-operation between the two countries.” Tina Kaidanow, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs was in New Delhi recently and urged Indian officials for early signing of the pacts. The agreements are Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). India and the US had signed first foundational agreement: Logistical Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016.
Strategic affairs expert C Uday Bhaskar said that the dialogue is taking place at a time when two sides are having a flux in their respective geopolitical outlook. “I think they should be resilient enough to understand this. Also for india, the dialogue happens at a time when us planning to impose sanctions on two of it’s key interlocuters, namely Russia and Iran,” he said.