India, US hold Defence Minister-level talks; key agreements likely

New Delhi, October 26

A meeting between visiting US Secretary of Defence Mark T Esper and India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh started here on Monday to discuss various issues.

The talks at the South Block are part of the third edition of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark T Esper and their Indian counterparts, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

A host of crucial bilateral, regional, and global issues — including China’s efforts to expand influence in the Indo-Pacific region as well as its aggressive behaviour in eastern Ladakh — will figure in the talks.

On Tuesday, Pompeo and Esper will hold the 2+2 talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, covering the entire expanse of defence and security ties as well as key regional and global issues.

The talks are taking place at a time India is engaged in a bitter border standoff with China, and the issue is expected to figure in the deliberations.

The two key officials of the Trump administration are also scheduled to hold separate bilateral talks with their Indian counterparts Jaishankar and Singh on Monday.

They will also meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

In the last few months, the US has been ramping up attacks on China over a range of contentious issues, including the border standoff with India, its military assertiveness in the South China Sea and the way Beijing handled the anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

Last week, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the talks would entail a comprehensive discussion on bilateral issues as well as deliberations on regional and global development.

It is expected that the two sides may finalise the long-pending BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement to further boost bilateral defence ties. The BECA will provide for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries.

The Indo-US defence ties have been on an upswing in the last few years.

In June 2016, the US had designated India a “Major Defence Partner” intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.

The two countries inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provide for deeper cooperation.

The two countries signed another pact called the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for the sale of high-end technology from the US to India.

According to the US government, India maintains the largest fleet of C-17 and P-8 aircraft outside of the US, and as of 2020, Washington has authorised more than $20 billion in defence sales to India.

The first edition of the 2+2 dialogue was held in Delhi in September 2018 after the mechanism was approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump.

The second edition of the dialogue took place in Washington in December last year.

The new framework of the ministerial dialogue was initiated in order to provide a forward-looking vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries.

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