Last week, the United States postponed what was meant to have been its first ‘2+2’ dialogue with India this month. As reported by The Indian Express, it has been learnt that the US offered to host Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Washington in line with the original plan — which had included other programmes too — but India has turned down the offer.
What was the ‘2+2’ dialogue supposed to discuss?
The ‘2+2’ dialogue is a meeting between the India Ministers for External Affairs and Defence, and the US Secretaries of State and Defense. The two countries agreed upon holding such a dialogue during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington in June last year, and it was announced after Modi’s telephonic call with President Donald Trump in August.
This “2+2” dialogue was meant to replace the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue between the foreign and commerce ministers of the two countries that was held during the previous Obama administration. It is to focus on “strengthening strategic, security and defence cooperation” between the two countries.
Does India have a similar ‘2+2’ with any other country?
At the ministerial level, this is the first time that India will be holding a ‘2+2’ dialogue with any country. At secretarial level, however, India has had similar ‘2+2’ dialogue with other countries.
How have the plans for the ‘2+2’ dialogue with the US played out so far?
This was meant to be the inaugural dialogue, before it was postponed once again Wednesday. Although not officially announced, it was initially meant to be held in January this year. It was later rescheduled for April, when it had to be postponed after President Trump sacked his then Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. It was then announced that the 2+2 dialogue would be held on July 6. Then Wednesday, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called up External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj “to express his regret and deep disappointment at the US having to postpone the 2+2 Dialogue for unavoidable reasons”.
What are those reasons?
Neither side has specified any official reason for the postponement but it is believed that Pompeo is required to travel to North Korea around those dates as part of President Trump’s engagement with the communist country. US officials have been at pains to clarify that the postponement has nothing to do with bilateral issues or policy issues pertaining to Iran or Russia.
What is the latest offer that India has turned down?
According to the original plan, Sitharaman was slated to follow up the ‘2+2’ meeting on July 6 with a visit to the Pentagon and bilateral talks with US Defense Secretary James Mattis. After Pompeo became unavailable, the Department of Defense suggested that Sitharaman continue with her scheduled visit. But India was “keen to preserve the format” and declined the offer, sources said. India felt that accepting the offer would have defeated the purpose of ‘2+2’.
So, when will the ‘2+2’ dialogue eventually be held?
According to the External Affairs Ministry spokesperson, Swaraj and Pompeo “agreed to identify new mutually convenient dates to hold the Dialogue at the earliest, in India or the US”. No announcement of the next date for the ‘2+2’ dialogue has been made yet, but it is expected that the dialogue would now be held in New Delhi instead of Washington DC.