Two plus two to tango

The India-U.S. “2+2” dialogue will see External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis on September 6 in Delhi. The purpose is to get four key policymakers on the same page. This stems from the idea that India-U.S. ties are increasingly strategic, and in recent years, there have been concerns that while military ties and exercises have increased rapidly, diplomatic convergences aren’t keeping pace. Conversely, despite close diplomatic exchanges, key defence agreements have not yet been completed. The talks will also review the U.S.’s South Asia policy on Afghanistan and its Indo-Pacific strategy. Why now? The idea for the meeting was discussed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Washington in June 2017. However, the talks were cancelled twice after being scheduled — once when former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired, and then when Mr. Pompeo had to visit North Korea for talks. Officials hope the September date in Delhi will prove “third time lucky”, ending speculation that the U.S. was not giving the meeting due priority. What are some of the achievable outcomes from the meeting? A senior U.S. official said the 2+2 will discuss how to “operationalise India’s status as a major defence partner”. Apart from discussions on various defence purchases, the two sides are expected to sign the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement that has been pending for some years due to objections in India over sharing critical information, and discuss U.S. restrictions on defence purchases from Russia under the new CAATSA law.

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