After it postponed the inaugural ‘2+2’ dialogue due to “unavoidable reasons”, the US offered to host Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Washington DC in the first week of July in line with the original plan but the offer was declined by India, The Indian Express has learnt.
India felt that accepting the offer would have defeated the purpose of a ‘2+2’ meeting, which involves a simultaneous dialogue between its defence and foreign ministers, and secretaries of state and defence from the American side, sources said.
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 Defence Secretary James Mattis. After US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo became unavailable, the US Department of Defence suggested that Sitharaman continue with her scheduled visit. But the government was “keen to preserve the format” and declined the offer, sources said.
There has been no announcement yet of a new date for the 2+2 dialogue although it is now expected to be held in New Delhi.
The dialogue was originally announced last August following a telephone call between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump, with a focus on “strengthening strategic, security and defense cooperation”. On Wednesday, Pompeo spoke to Swaraj “to express his regret and deep disappointment at the US having to postpone the 2+2 Dialogue for unavoidable reasons”.
When the dialogue was previously postponed from its scheduled date in April, after President Trump fired his then secretary of state Rex Tillerson, a similar offer to host Sitharaman was made by the US. That offer had been rejected by New Delhi.
Meanwhile, official US sources told The Indian Express that the postponement of 2+2 is unrelated to bilateral issues. Refusing to confirm whether the reason for the fresh delay was US’s engagement with North Korea, sources said it was because “Secretary Pompeo got called to an urgent trip”.
Sources also said that “the postponement was not related to any policy”, trying to dispel the notion that it was either related to India’s import of crude oil from Iran or its purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia.
Indian plans to buy the Russian missile system has generated interest in the US where the Congress is debating legislation against Russian defence entities, which could cover recipient countries as well. The Russian S-400 missile system falls under the category of equipment targeted under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
After President Trump’s decision to dismantle the sanctions relief provided to Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal, the US has asked India and China to stop all imports of Iranian oil by November 4 or face sanctions. India has not officially responded to the American demand, although it is widely expected to reduce oil imports from Iran.