India US to hold first ever 2+2 top level strategic dialogues

India US to hold first ever 2+2 top level strategic dialogues

NEW DELHI - India and the United States will hold the inaugural 2+2 meeting of their defence and foreign ministers in Washington on July 6, the US state department announced Thursday, ending months of uncertainty dogged by postponements and cancellations over scheduling and personnel changes.

This will be the first simultaneous meeting of the Indian defence and external affairs ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Sushma Swaraj and their US counterparts James Mattis and Mike Pompeo in a format announced last August after a call between Prime Minister Narendra modi and President Donald Trump.

At the July meeting, officials will “focus on strengthening strategic, security, and defense cooperation as the United States and India jointly confront global challenges”, said the state department in a statement.

Officials expect to discuss, specifically, the indirect impact of US sanctions on Russia and Iran. A major Indian defence deal for the Russian S-400 air defence systems is at risk of attracting secondary sanction from the US unless an exception was made, as proposed and backed by Mattis and Pompeo.

The meeting will take place among growing defence and diplomatic ties and convergence but increasing trade differences caused by President Trump’s decision to slap a tariff of 25% and 10% on steel and aluminium imports. India has retaliated with its own tariffs on imports from the US and has also challenged Trump’s tariffs at the World Trade Organisation. Trade is a separate discussion but and new and continuing issues are being thrashed out by the two countries in other forums.

This meeting was earlier scheduled to take place in April and preparations were well under way when President Trump unexpectedly fired the then secretary of state Rex Tillerson. As his replacement, Pompeo, could not have been confirmed in time for the 2+2 dialogue, the meeting was pushed to a later date.

And in the subsequent weeks, the US was focussed solely on President Trump’s meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. India has proposed July 6, as reported by Hindustan Times earlier, but had to wait for a confirmation from Washington DC, which finally came through.

The two sides will be expecting to discuss a whole range of issues in defence and external affairs such as cooperation on counter-terrorism, which is always accorded high priority by the countries, and Afghanistan, which received a significant pitch in President Trump’s new South Asia strategy.

As a sign of growing defence ties, the US renamed its Pacific Command, one of its six geographical military commands, as the Indo-Pacific Command, which has been called a “significant” development by experts.