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Monday 20 January 2020

2+2 dialogue: India, US ink critical defence pact; discuss cross-border terror, H1B

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman held talks with US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis

New Delhi: A long-negotiated defence pact under which critical and encrypted defence technologies will be provided to the Indian military by the US was inked here Thursday after the two countries held their first 2+2 dialogue during which they also discussed key issues, including cross-border terrorism, India’s NSG bid and contentious H1B visa issue.

During the talks External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had with US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis, the two countries also decided to set up hotlines between them.

Addressing a joint press conference, Swaraj expressed satisfaction over the agenda of the inaugural dialogue while giving the details of the deliberations.

While Pompeo termed the ‘Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA)’ agreement a “milestone” in the relationship, Sitharaman asserted that the pact will enhance India’s defence capability and preparedness.

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.

Swaraj also said given strong bilateral ties, India has conveyed to US Secretary Pompeo its expectation that US will not “act against” interests of Indians while taking a decision on the H1B visa issue.

The US has been trying to enhance military ties with India, which is seen as an effort to counter-balance China’s growing military assertiveness in the region.

 

In a tweet, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the dialogue was a reflection of the shared commitment of the two countries to provide a positive, forward-looking vision to their strategic partnership and rowing convergence on important issues.

Sources said the US attaches great importance to India’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific region and the issue figures prominently in the talks.

A raft of other important issues like US sanctions on the import of Iranian crude oil and India’s plan to buy a batch of S-400 air defence missile systems from Russia are being discussed, official sources said.

In May, the US withdrew from the landmark Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed the sanctions that had been suspended in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Iran is India’s third-largest oil supplier after Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The US’ sanctions on the import of Iranian petroleum products will be effective from 4 November.

Referring to the S-400 missile deal, the sources said it was for the US to decide on what steps it may take if India goes ahead with the procurement, notwithstanding the US’ sanctions against Moscow relating to defence supplies.

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