In the first ever 2+2 dialogue between India and US, the two countries on Thursday signed a key military communication pact and held discussions on a host of other issues including cross-border terrorism, India’s NSG bid and the contentious H1B visa issue.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman held discussions with their US counterparts Mike Pompeo and James Mattis respectively in New Delhi as part of the 2+2 dialogue.
The two sides signed Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) that will enable Indian armed forces to get critical and encrypted defence technologies from US.
The COMCASA will facilitate India to obtain critical defence technologies from the US, and access critical communication network to ensure interoperability among the US and the Indian armed forces.
It will also allow the installation of high-security US communication equipment on defence platforms being sourced from the US.
It is our responsibility to advance free and open Indo-Pacific relations. Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) is a major step,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told media persons after the 2+2 dialogue.
He also added that the US was looking forward to finalising the Westinghouse Nuclear Reactor project in India.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that India and US have decided to continue cooperation against terrorism and other security challenges.
“In today's meeting, we reaffirmed to cooperate in every possible way to ensure peace, prosperity and development. Also pledged to continue cooperation against terrorism and other security challenges,” she said.
She also added that India and US will soon carry out tri-services joint exercise.
Sushma Swaraj told media persons that the issue of cross-border terrorism was also discussed during the talks
“We welcome United States' recent designation of terrorists as a part of Lashkar-e-Taiba. These listing are based on terrorism that is flourishing in Pakistan, which has equally affected India, US and the world,” she said.
Swaraj also asserted that the dialogue reflected the desire of leadership of the two countries to further elevate the bilateral strategic communication on cross-cutting defence and security issues.
She said, “The recent decision by the US to put India in the list of countries eligible for Strategic Trade Authorization Tier-I License Exemption reflects India’s robust and responsible export control policies. In our meeting today, we also agreed to work together to secure India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group at the earliest.”
Talking about her bilateral meeting with Pompeo before the 2+2 dialogue, the External Affairs Minister said they reviewed the direction of the Indo-US relations in recent months and exchanged views on a number of regional issues of shared concern.
Terming the rapidly growing trade and investment ties as an important element of bilateral relationship, Swaraj said this growth is giving rise to new opportunities and a basis for more intense economic engagement which supports development of manufacturing, promotes knowledge and innovation, creates jobs and provides critical resources for growth.
“I sought Secretary Pompeo’s support to nurture our people-to-people links. 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, all of which are a vital source of strength for our relationship,” Swaraj said.
She also noted that there was a growing convergence of views, including on the Indo-Pacific, during the discussion among the four ministers.
“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,” the minister said, adding India welcomed the US’ interest in expanding its economic footprint in the region as they “complement our own efforts”.
Asserting that counterterrorism cooperation between India and the US has acquired a new qualitative edge and purpose, Swaraj said they have agreed to deepen ties in international forums like the United Nations and the Financial Action Task Force.
“We welcomed the recent designations of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists by the US. They underscore the international community’s scrutiny over the threat of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which has affected India and the US alike. On the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 attacks, we recognized the importance of justice and retribution for the masterminds behind this terrorist attack,” Swaraj said.
She also said, “India supports President Trump’s South Asia Policy. His call for Pakistan to stop its policy of supporting cross-border terrorism finds resonance with us”.
The joint statement issued after the talks said that the strategic importance of India’s designation as a Major Defense Partner (MDP) of the United States was reaffirmed during the talks.
“The Ministers reaffirmed the strategic importance of India’s designation as a Major Defense Partner (MDP) of the United States and commitment to expand the scope and take mutually agreed upon steps to strengthen defense ties further,” the joint statement said.
“ The Ministers reaffirmed their shared commitment to a united, sovereign, democratic, inclusive, stable, prosperous, and peaceful Afghanistan. The two sides expressed support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process,” it added.
(With agency inputs)