India, US set to begin 2+2 talks, defence pacts on anvil

On the agenda are regional security cooperation, defence information sharing, military-to-military interactions and defence trade

Prime Minister Modi and US President Donald Trump initiated the Two-plus-Two talks in 2017. PTI File Photo

Amid a prolonged standoff with China, India and US will begin what is called two-plus-two talks on October 26-27. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark T Esper are on their way to New Delhi for the third edition of the talks with their Indian counterparts, S Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh.

The dialogue comes eight months after President Donald Trump’s visit to India and days before that country’s presidential election.

Sources said Pompeo and Esper are also likely to call on PM Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

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The ‘two-plus-two’ talks refer to a bilateral meeting of the defence or foreign ministers or secretaries of the two countries. The mechanism is derived from Japan and aims to facilitate high-level diplomatic and political engagement between the two sides.

Also read:China deployed 60,000 soldiers on India’s northern border: Mike Pompeo

PM Modi and President Trump announced the ‘two-plus-two dialogue’ during their first meeting in 2017. The inaugural dialogue was held in Delhi in September 2018 followed by its second round in Washington in December last year. The 2+2 dialogue has replaced the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue between the two foreign and commerce ministers of the two countries which were held During the Obama administration. Apart from India, the US holds such ministerial dialogues with Australia and Japan.

Also read: India absolutely needs US to be its ally, says Pompeo

Ahead of the important talks, the US State Department said the country welcomes India’s emergence as a leading regional and global power. “As outlined in our National Security Strategy, the United States welcomes India’s emergence as a leading regional and global power. The United States looks forward to collaborating closely with India during its upcoming term on the UN Security Council,” the US said.

Pompeo’s visit marks the fourth visit to India by a Secretary of State during the Trump administration.

“Wheels up for my trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. Grateful for the opportunity to connect with our partners to promote a shared vision for a free and open IndoPacific composed of independent, strong, and prosperous nations,” he tweeted on October 25.

Sources said on the agenda are regional security cooperation, defence information sharing, military-to-military interactions and defence trade.

“We have made significant progress towards concluding the last foundational defence enabling agreement – the Exchange and Cooperation Agreement or BECA,” a senior official of the Trump administration said last week in an online news briefing.

“This agreement will allow for expanded geospatial information sharing between our armed forces. We are also seeking to expand secure communication capabilities between our respective militaries as well as between our foreign defence ministries and that figures prominently in what we are trying to accomplish in the information-sharing space,” said the official.

There is a broad understanding that during the 2+2 talks, New Delhi and Washington may close-out signing BECA after years of negotiation. The signing of the agreement would allow the US to share precision satellite and topographical data from its constellation of military satellites on a real time basis.

Last week, the US also said it is watching the India-China standoff in Ladakh closely, sharing information with New Delhi, and wants to ensure the situation does not escalate.

The recent Quadrilateral Ministerial meeting in Tokyo convened by Pompeo and his counterparts from India, Japan, and Australia, the US said, demonstrated the strong cooperative ties among Indo-Pacific democracies interested in strengthening a rules-based order in which all nations are sovereign, strong, and prosperous.

India along with the US, Japan and Australia will hold the high-level Malabar naval exercise next month. Australia is returning to the high-level naval exercise for the first time after 2007 when its participation drew criticism from China. The United States on Sunday said it welcomes Australia joining the Malabar naval exercise.

“The United States and India enjoy robust defence industrial cooperation. Through the US- India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, the United States and India work together on co-production and co-development of defence equipment,” the State Department said.

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