by Elton Gomes
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo will be in Delhi tomorrow to take part in the maiden Indo-US 2+2 dialogue. Mattis and Pompeo will meet with their Indian counterparts – External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in what is expected to be a crucial summit for Indo-US ties. The big question during the summit remains whether US will impose sanctions over India for purchasing the S-400 missiles from Russia. The US will also urge India to drastically reduce crude oil imports from Iran.
Who will attend the meeting?
Apart from the four primary policymakers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, will attend the meet as part of the US delegation. Before delegation-level talks proceed, Swaraj will have a separate bilateral meeting with Pompeo while Sitharaman will have a one-on-one meeting with Mattis on Thursday morning. A total of 12 officials from both sides are expected to attend the summit, which will be followed by a luncheon meeting. In the afternoon, Swaraj, Sitharaman, Pompeo, and Mattis will call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
What will be discussed?
Several issues are likely to be discussed. A major point will be US sanctions on Iranian imports of oil. The US has demanded that India “zero out” its oil imports from Iran by November, and India will hope to hear from the US as to what options it has in terms of oil imports.
An official said, “We are heavily energy import reliant … We would like to understand the alternative sources of crude and also the price,” thus indicating that India could consider the US’ demands if other sources of oil, which are compatible with Indian refineries, were made available at a fair price, the Hindu reported.
Another important issue that will be discussed is India’s plan to go ahead with the procurement of a batch of S-400 missiles from Russia. Other issues such as enhancing trade, effectively dealing with terrorism, and India’s concerns over changes made in the H-1B visa programme could figure in the discussions. Enhancing cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region is also an important topic to be discussed.
An announcement is expected to be made in terms of an in-principle agreement between the two sides on the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). However, its signing remains in doubt. “Work is still on. Some form of announcement is expected. Lawyers on both sides are looking into the draft. In the week prior, they did some adjustments in the text,” an official told the Hindu.
A major announcement could be made with regards to cross-posting of officials at the US Defence Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) and India’s recently created Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) to work on joint development projects. The US came forward with this proposal, and it intends to carry forward the co-development and co-production efforts under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI).
Other announcements are likely to include the potential US sale of MH-60 Romeo maritime helicopters and armed drones through the Foreign Military Sales programme. The US has cleared all legislative hurdles involved in selling armed drones to India. A joint tri-service amphibious Humanitarian and Disaster Relief exercise, which was in the works, is likely to be announced.
Defence talks to “certainly come up”: Pompeo
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted that India’s plans to buy the S-400 Russian missiles will definitely feature in the talks, but they will not be the focus of the meet.
“They are (missile system purchase from Russia and oil from Iran) part of the conversation. They are part of the relationship. They will certainly come up, but I don’t think they will be the primary focus of what it is we are trying to accomplish here,” Pompeo said, PTI reported.
During the talks, India is expected to convey to the US that it will be procuring the missiles for roughly $4.5 billion. Pompeo said that he looked forward to resolving other points on the agenda. “There are half-a-dozen things on the agenda that we are really intent on making progress on. Those decisions are important, they are important to the relationship for sure, but I do not see us resolving those or have intention to resolve those during this set of meetings of the strategic dialogue. They are really about things that are big and strategic and will go on for 20, 40, 50 years.
Those are the kinds of topics that secretary Mattis and I are hoping to address – not that those are not important, but they are not part of the structural relationship between the two countries,” Pompeo said, Live Mint reported.
Other issues to be discussed
Media reports suggest that a direct hotline on defence between Sitharaman and Mattis could be in the works. India will also push the US for a UNSC (United Nations Security Council) designation of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist. As Pompeo will be reaching Delhi directly from Islamabad, his interaction with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government will be closely followed.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius