India and the US on Thursday held the first edition of the 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi, in which the major takeaways were the signing of the long-pending Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and setting up of a hotline between External Affairs Minister and Defence Minister with their American counterparts.
After being canceled twice in the last 14 months, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman held the 2+2 dialogue with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis.
“Signing of Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) will enable India to access advanced technologies from the US,” Sitharaman said during the joint press briefing.
On signing of COMCASA
COMCASA will 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. It will also allow the installation of high-security US communication equipment on defence platforms being sourced from the US.
While Pompeo termed the agreement a “milestone” in the relationship, Sitharaman asserted that the pact would enhance India’s defence capability and preparedness. Reuters quoted experts as saying that the signing of the COMCASA agreement could also reduce the chances of the United States imposing sanctions on India for looking to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.
On India’s entry to NSG
Swaraj said both the sides also agreed on working together towards entry of India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). “We have agreed to speed up the process of India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group,” Swaraj said. In January, the Donald Trump administration had endorsed India’s quest for membership into the exclusive club but New Delhi has faced roadblocks from Beijing, which has insisted that India was not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The two sides also announced the deployment of an Indian liaison officer at the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), which is in charge of naval operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the oil-rich Gulf countries. In a first, the two nations also decided to conduct a tri-services joint exercise off the eastern coast of India in 2019.
On H-1B visa issue
On the H-1B visa issue, Swaraj expressed hope that the US would not “act against” the interest of Indians. “We have also discussed the H-1B visa issue. This visa impacts Indian IT professionals. We have appealed to the US to keep this a high-priority in our ties,” Swaraj said.
The meeting also focused on regional stability in South Asia, South-East Asia and Indo-Pacific, where the US is seeking to counter-balance China’s growing military assertiveness in the region. In a message to China, Pompeo said, “We should continue to ensure freedom of the seas, skies, uphold the peaceful resolutions of the maritime disputes, promote market-based economics and good governance and prevent external economic coercion.”
On Pakistan and terrorism
In their joint statement, the ministers called on Pakistan to ensure that their territory was not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. “We have discussed terror emanating from Pakistan and have agreed that Pakistan needs to do a lot more to curb terror originating from it,” Swaraj said.
Welcoming the recent US move to designate three Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists and terror financiers as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT), Swaraj said, “This listing is based on terrorism that is flourishing in Pakistan, which has equally affected India, the US and the world.”
The two sides also expressed support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. “We welcome President Trump’s policy on Afghanistan. We are working together in the fight against terror,” she said.
India-US defence partnership
In his speech, Defence secretary Jim Mattis reaffirmed the strategic importance of India’s designation as a Major Defence Partner (MDP) of the US and said the Trump administration was committed to expand the scope and take mutually agreed upon steps to strengthen their defence ties further
“We will continue working together, join hands and expand India’s role as a primary major defence partner, to elevate our relationship to a level commensurate with our closest allies and partners,” Mattis said. The United States has emerged as India’s second largest arms supplier, closing $15 billion worth of deals in the past decade.