NEW DELHI: US President Donald Trump’s top two envoys met with their Indian counterparts in Delhi on Thursday to deepen a fast-growing partnership but also to tackle thorny issues ranging from an ongoing trade spat to India’s purchase of Russian military gear.
Both sides say the unprecedented “2+2” meeting is proof of how far US-India ties have come in recent years, though the officials must tackle several contentious areas where they don’t see eye to eye.
“We fully support India’s rise as a leading global power,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the start of the summit.
The two countries are eager to deepen ties as a way of countering China, whose economic and military might grows stronger by the day.
In an apparent reference to China and its Belt and Road initiative — which floods developing countries with cash for infrastructure projects that sometimes cannot be repaid — Pompeo said the US and India wish to pursue “fundamental rights and liberties and prevent external economic coercion.”
Pompeo was joined by US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and their Indian counterparts Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman.
Swaraj said India attaches the “highest priority” to its strategic partnership with the US, and sees America as a “partner of choice.”
In 2016, Washington designated India as a “major defence partner”, making it easier for the two countries to do arms deals. India however is finalising a deal with Moscow to buy new systems including its S-400 long-range, surface-to-air missiles.
Pompeo and Mattis will likely bring the issue up and ask India to distance itself from Russia. Under current US rules, third countries could face sanctions if they transact with Russian defence or intelligence sectors.
If the S-400 deal is finalised, India has signalled it will ask Washington for a special waiver from sanctions, though a US official last week said there is no guarantee it would do so.
The talks were also expected to touch on expanding the scope and complexity of joint military exercises.
Additionally, India and the US are close to signing an agreement that would ensure communications between their two militaries are compatible and secure.
India already has bought US Apache attack helicopters and other gear, and is negotiating to buy armed drones.
The talks were first meant to be held in April and then in June but both were postponed, triggering speculation of a rift. (web Desk)