The United States has termed the upcoming 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi as a major opportunity to enhance its engagement with India on critical diplomatic and security priorities.
"The 2+2 is a major opportunity to enhance our engagement with India on critical diplomatic and security priorities," a senior administration official told reporters during a conference call on Wednesday.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis are travelling to New Delhi for the first ever India-US two-plus-two dialogue being hosted by their Indian counterparts External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Pompeo's travel in tandem with Mattis is a strong indication of the deepening strategic partnership between the United States and India, and that of India's emergence as an important security provider in the region, the official said.
"India's central role in our National Security Strategy is enshrined in the President's National Security Strategy as well as the administration's South Asia and Indo-Pacific strategies. So that's my first message, that the relationship with India is a key US priority and integral to our national security," the official said.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official added that the two countries have a very ambitious agenda for the 2+2, including advancing their shared vision for the Indo-Pacific.
As democracies bookending the Indo-Pacific region, the United States and India share an interest in promoting security and prosperity in this region, the official said.
"Together and with other like-minded partners, we want to ensure the freedom of the seas and the skies, promote market economics, support good governance, and insulate sovereign nations from external coercion," the official added.
Noting that the United States declared India a major defence partner in 2016, a status unique to New Delhi, the official said operationalising that status would also be an important part of the discussion at the 2+2.
"We expect progress and further deepening the ties between our two militaries, and creating of a framework for greater information sharing and inter-operability," the official said.
The two countries, the official noted, were also eager to expand defence trade, which is estimated to reach USD 18 billion by 2019 from essentially zero in 2008.
To support this goal, the US government recently granted India the Strategy Trade Authority Tier 1 designation, which enables US-based companies export dual-use items to India under a more streamlined, licenced process, the official added.
In addition to using the 2+2 to further advance their expanding counterterrorism cooperation, the official said the US wanted to continue to grow the trade relationship to their mutual benefit.
"It is no surprise that tariff and non-tariff barriers have been the subject of longstanding concern, and the US government is working with the government of India to address market access challenges," the official said.
(With PTI inputs)