A hotline between Indian and US ministers for defence and foreign affairs, an Indian Navy liaison officer at the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) in Bahrain and a security agreement for intelligence-sharing on movement of vessels in the Indian Ocean region are some of the possible key deliverables being discussed and likely to be agreed upon at the first Indo-US 2+2 dialogue on Thursday, sources have told The Indian Express.
US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and Defence Secretary James N Mattis will be in India to hold talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on September 6 — the dialogue has been cancelled twice in the last 14 months.
It is learnt that the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), if it is not signed by the two sides during the 2+2 dialogue, may get “in-principle approval”. COMCASA is meant to provide a legal framework for the transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India that would facilitate “interoperability” between their forces — and potentially with other militaries that use US-origin systems for secured data links.
“The COMCASA needs Cabinet approval after the texts have been agreed upon, and if it is cleared by Wednesday, then it will be signed during the dialogue. But if that doesn’t happen, then there will at least be an in-principle approval mentioned in the official statement after the inaugural 2+2 dialogue,” a source said.
The two sides have agreed to set up a hotline between the principals from both sides. Earlier, the idea was to have a hotline between the External Affairs Minister and the US Secretary of State. But now, the two sides are also working on a separate hotline between the Defence Minister and the US Defence Secretary. At least one, if not both, is expected to be announced, sources said.
“This is in line with the main objective of the 2+2 talks, which is to focus on strengthening strategic, security and defence cooperation between the two countries,” a source told The Indian Express. Similar hotlines exist with few US allies, like the UK.
The two sides are also likely to announce an Indian liaison officer at the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) in Bahrain. NAVCENT’s area of responsibility includes the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea. Comprising the Fifth Fleet and other forces, this Command is in charge of naval operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the oil-rich Gulf countries. It is also the lead player in anti-piracy and counter-terrorist operations conducted by the Combined Task Force 150 and 158.
“Some of the key partners and allies have liaison officers at US NAVCENT. This just means that India has a larger role to play in the Indian Ocean region, and is now officially and militarily recognised by the US,” another source said.
The two sides are also discussing a security agreement to inform and share intelligence on movement of maritime activities and vessels in the Indo-Pacific region, which is also likely to be a key outcome of the 2+2 dialogue.
Both sides will mention the burgeoning defence cooperation, and the US’s recent STA-1 classification which eases defence and high technology trade between the two countries. A formal notification is also expected during the meeting.
Sources said that since both sides have had more than 14 months to prepare for the dialogue — it was announced in June 2017 during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US to meet President Donald Trump — it has led to some substantial outcomes in the key strategic sectors.
The “2+2” dialogue has replaced the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue between the foreign and commerce ministers of the two countries that was held during the previous Obama administration.