2+2 Dialogue: India, US ink critical defence pact; discuss cross-border terror, H1B

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New Delhi:

In a historic move, India and the US on Thursday held their first 2+2 dialogue and signed the long-negotiated defence pact under which critical and encrypted defence technologies will be provided to the Indian military by the US. The two sides also discussed several key bilateral issues and decided to set up hotlines between them.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman held talks with US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis. During the talks, the two countries discussed key issues, including cross-border terrorism, India’s NSG bid and the contentious H1B visa issue.

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Swaraj, addressing a joint press conference, expressed satisfaction over the agenda of the inaugural dialogue. While Pompeo termed the ‘Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA)’ a “milestone” in the relationship, Sitharaman said the pact will strengthen India’s defence capability and preparedness.

The COMCASA will facilitate India to obtain critical defence technologies from the US, and access critical communication network to ensure interoperability among the US and the Indian armed forces. It will also allow the installation of high-security US communication equipment on defence platforms being sourced from the US.

The 2+2 dialogue reflected the two countries’ desire to enhance the bilateral strategic communication on cross-cutting defence and security issues, Swaraj said.

“The recent decision by the US to put India in the list of countries eligible for Strategic Trade Authorization Tier-I License Exemption reflects India’s robust and responsible export control policies. In our meeting today, we also agreed to work together to secure India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group at the earliest,” she said.

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Terming the rapidly growing trade and investment ties as an important element of bilateral relationship, Swaraj said this growth is giving rise to new opportunities and a basis for more intense economic engagement which supports development of manufacturing, promotes knowledge and innovation, creates jobs and provides critical resources for growth.

“I sought Secretary Pompeo’s support to nurture our people-to-people links. Specifically, I conveyed our expectation for a non-discriminatory and predictable approach to the H1B visa regime, given its high impact on innovation, competitiveness and people-to-people partnership, all of which are a vital source of strength for our relationship,” Swaraj said.

The external affairs minister also noted that there was a growing convergence of views, including the Indo-Pacific, during the discussion among the four ministers.

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“We see the Indo-Pacific as a free, open and inclusive concept, with ASEAN centrality at the core and defined by a common rules-based order that both our countries are pursuing,” the minister said, adding India welcomed the US’ interest in expanding its economic footprint in the region as they “complement our own efforts,” Swaraj said.

Also stressing that counterterrorism cooperation between India and the US has acquired a new qualitative edge and purpose, Swaraj said they have agreed to deepen ties in international forums like the United Nations and the Financial Action Task Force.

“We welcomed the recent designations of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists by the US. They underscore the international community’s scrutiny over the threat of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which has affected India and the US alike. On the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 attacks, we recognized the importance of justice and retribution for the masterminds behind this terrorist attack,” Swaraj said.

“India supports President Trump’s South Asia Policy. His call for Pakistan to stop its policy of supporting cross-border terrorism finds resonance with us,” she added.

The two countries also discussed the ongoing efforts by India and the US in promoting an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan Government-controlled reconciliation process, that brings together all ethnic groups and political formation in that country, Swaraj added.

(With inputs from PTI)

She said, “The recent decision by the US to put India in the list of countries eligible for Strategic Trade Authorization Tier-I License Exemption reflects India’s robust and responsible export control policies. In our meeting today, we also agreed to work together to secure India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group at the earliest.”

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