India and the United States on Thursday signed the landmark Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), as they held the first edition of the 2+2 talks in New Delhi. COMCASA will enable the Indian military to access critical and encrypted American defence technologies. The two countries also asked Pakistan to ensure that the territory under its control was not used to launch terror attacks on other countries.
India and the US also decided to set up hotlines between their foreign ministers and defence ministers to enable them to remain in touch regularly. The two countries will for the first time hold a tri-services joint exercise in the eastern coast of India in 2019 to further increase personal exchanges between their military and defence organisations.
These far-reaching announcements were made by the two countries in a joint statement issued at the end of the first of its kind 2+2 dialogue where External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman hosted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.
At a joint press interaction, the four leaders read out their respective statements expressing satisfaction over the dialogue and listing out the outcomes of their day-long discussions. They avoided taking any questions from the media apparently in view of differences between the two sides over India’s oil purchases from Iran and its defence relationship with Russia.
The Indian side is understood to have explained how important Iran was for India for meeting its oil and energy needs and its proposed deal with Russia for purchasing S-400 Triumph missile defence systems that could attract sanctions against Indian entities under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Washington, however, maintained that oil-related sanctions against Iran would come into force on 4 November and hoped oil purchases would go to zero for every country by then. Waivers would be considered where necessary. On the S-400 deal, the two sides are likely to continue their discussions. Washington has been nudging New Delhi to step back from defence purchases.
Great significance is being attached to the COMCASA agreement that will enable India to access advanced US defence systems and optimally utilise its existing US-origin platforms. The two countries also announced their readiness to begin negotiations on an industrial Security Annex (ISA) that would support closer defence industry.
Welcoming the expansion of bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation, the two countries announced their intent to increase information-sharing efforts on known or suspect terrorists. Denouncing any use of terrorist proxies in the region, they called upon Pakistan to bring to justice expeditiously the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri and other terror attacks.
The two sides also reviewed cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and agreed to work together toward a free, open and inclusive region, based on recognition of ASEAN centrality and on respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, rule of law, good governance, free and fair trade and freedom of navigation and overflight.
In an apparent dig at China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), India and the US emphasised the need to work collectively with other partners to support transparent, responsible and sustainable debt financing practices in infrastructure development.
The US welcomed India’s accession to three major non-proliferation regimes and reiterated its full support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). The two sides said they looked forward to full implementation of the civil nuclear energy partnership and collaboration between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and the Westinghouse electric Company for setting up six nuclear power plants in India.
On Afghanistan, the two countries supported an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process
The next 2+2 meeting is to be held in the United States in 2019.