India-US 2+2 meeting: Indo-Pacific, counter-terror on agenda

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New Delhi, Sep 4 (IANS) Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and counter-terrorism efforts as well as India’s oil imports from Iran following a US ban will be among a host of issues that will come up at the first India-US 2+2 dialogue here on Thursday, New Delhi’s biggest diplomatic engagement with Washington this year.

Ahead of the meeting between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, informed sources said that the Global Strategic Partnership between India and the US has got a fresh impetus under US President Donald Trump.

The 2+2 dialogue mechanism was announced after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in June last year and this replaces the earlier strategic and commercial dialogue and is set to become an annual affair.

The twice-deferred meeting was earlier scheduled for July 6 in Washington. But, it was put off purportedly because of Pompeo’s North Korea visit for unscheduled meetings with its officials.

Before that, the first 2+2 meeting in April, also to be hosted by the US, was called off after Trump suddenly sacked the then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Among the few countries the US has 2+2 dialogue are Australia and Japan.

According to the sources, two major areas of convergence between India and the US in recent times have been the Indo-Pacific region, which has emerged as a very important geostrategic area, and counter-terrorism efforts.

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“In terms of regional issues, the Indo-Pacific issue will be discussed,” an informed source said. “We want to know the US perspective on this.”

As counter-terrorism is a subject of interest for both India and the US, designation of individuals and organisations as global terrorists is expected to be discussed.

While US has labelled leaders of Pakistan-based terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad as Specially Designated Global Terrorists, much to India’s satisfaction, New Delhi has similarly labelled al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent and the Islam State-Khorasan.

With the US imposing fresh sanctions on Iran over the country’s nuclear programme, a major irritant that has arisen is its ramifications on India’s oil imports from the West Asian nation.

With India-Iran bilateral economic ties dominated by crude oil imports, New Delhi will seek to sensitise the US how very energy import-reliant country India is.

According to the sources, price is an important factor here and the discussions will be around what the US expectations are whereas India will express its concerns and requirements.

India has also started oil and gas imports from the US after many years and, according to the sources, with an import target of $2.5 billion, it is also expected to address the bilateral trade deficit issue which is largely tilted in India’s favour.

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India supports UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that calls for comprehensive action on Iran’s nuclear programmme and does not want it to become a nuclear state, but New Delhi is not opposed to Tehran getting access to clean civilian nuclear energy.

The sanctions on Iran have also put a shadow over the Chabahar port project in Iran, being jointly developed by India, Iran and Afghanistan.

The port gives access to Afghanistan by bypassing Pakistan and there have been concerns in Delhi about what the implications of the sanctions will be on the key project.

However, it is learnt that there has been an understanding that Chabahar is a larger regional issue on which Afghanistan too is talking with the US.

Defence has also emerged as a key pillar of bilateral ties, with the US designating India as a Major Defence Partner in 2016.

However, India has signed only one of three foundational agreements needed for interoperability with the US — the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in 2016 — and not the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement.

According to the sources, COMCASA is likely to come up for assessment during the 2+2 dialogue but an outcome cannot be prejudged at this juncture.

“Defence innovation is something important for us,” an informed source said, adding that discussions have been held on the Defence Trade and Technology Innovation.

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However, with the Trump administration’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) coming into effect in January 2018, India’s defence deals with other countries have come under the scanner.

CAATSA targets countries doing business with Russian, Iranian and North Korean defence companies and with India being a major defence partner of Russia, it has become a matter of concern.

The most controversial issue is India’s purchase of four S-400 missile systems from Russia at a cost of more that Rs 40,000 crore.

US lawmakers have opposed this deal, citing its non-compatibility with US equipment but the sources here have said that India’s defence ties with third countries will not come up for discussion in the 2+2 dialogue as it is essentially a bilateral meeting.

“CAATSA is a US law and it is for Washington to give a waiver,” a source said.

Addressing the bilateral trade imbalance is also expected to be another issue of discussion during the upcoming dialogue.

Bilateral goods trade stood at $74.5 billion in 2017-18, with India having a trade surplus of $21.3 billion.

However, last month, India became the 37th country and the third Asian country after Japan and South Korea to be accorded Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 status by Washington, paving the way for the sale of high-technology products to New Delhi.

–IANS

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