Top US officials to visit India for high-level dialogue

Defence, foreign affairs chiefs to discuss key issues in effort to enhance bilateral ties

Two top Trump administration officials will be in New Delhi this week for talks with their Indian counterparts to improve bilateral ties and look into further areas of cooperation, including a visit by President Donald Trump, possibly in January, as the chief guest at India's annual Republic Day parade.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with Defence Secretary James Mattis, will hold "two-plus-two talks" on Thursday with their Indian counterparts, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. This will be the first such two-plus-two talks.

The United States has called the meeting "a major opportunity" to enhance ties, with both sides expected to discuss all key defence and strategic issues.

These include cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and the finalisation of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement, or Comcasa, a legal agreement that would facilitate the transfer of high-tech communications security equipment.

Ties between India and the US have remained firm on the back of mutual concerns about the rise of China. Both have grown closer through greater military engagement and have pledged to work closely in the Asia-Pacific region.

For the US, India is also a growing market that American companies are keen to tap.

Still, several recent developments have caused unease in New Delhi.

WHOLE SPECTRUM

I think it's a very important meeting. They will cover the entire gamut of the relationship and review other issues, including global and regional issues.

FORMER INDIAN FOREIGN SECRETARY LALIT MANSINGH, on the talks this week.

While Mr Trump has spoken of deepening ties with India, officials here do not quite know what to make of reports in the US media about Mr Trump often imitating Prime Minister Narendra Modi's accent.

A Politico report also said that Mr Trump apparently joked about playing matchmaker for Mr Modi after his aides told him the Indian Premier is estranged from his wife.

Separately, US sanctions on Russia and Iran have affected India. India has longstanding ties with Teheran and is a major importer of Iranian oil, and the government in New Delhi is now sourcing for the commodity from other countries.

Similarly, US sanctions against Russia have been a challenge for New Delhi, which has close defence ties with Moscow.

India is in talks to acquire five S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems from Russia and is seeking a waiver from the US for this acquisition.

 
 
 
 

"There is a 50-50 chance America might give a waiver for S-400 because there is a provision for a waiver. We have a much weaker case in asking for a waiver for Iran because there is no shortage of alternate sources of oil," said former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.

He added that the two-plus-two talks were important for ties.

"I think it's a very important meeting. They will cover the entire gamut of the relationship and review other issues, including global and regional issues," he said.

There are also expectations that trade issues - another irritant in ties - could crop up in discussions.

Mr Trump's decision to impose higher tariffs on steel and aluminium imports has prompted a retaliatory move from India on American products. But India has postponed its imposition of tariffs, leaving room for negotiations.

"Even though this is primarily strategic, I expect trade will come up. Any problem on trade will have an overall effect on ties," said Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan from the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"This is the first time we are doing such a dialogue. It is an indication of the deepening strategic ties that the two countries have."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2018, with the headline 'Top US officials to visit India for high-level dialogue'. Print Edition | Subscribe