Enhanced defence cooperation, furthering their Indo-Pacific strategy, and discussions on global challenges, including U.S. policy in Iran and Afghanistan, are likely to feature at the top of the agenda as External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh sit down to the second “2+2” combined ministerial meeting with their U.S. counterparts, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, on Wednesday.
On the defence front, the two sides are expected to sign the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) and review steps being taken to operationalise the foundational agreement Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) which was signed during the previous 2+2 talks. However, discussions on the last foundational agreement, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) are not concluded yet, as some differences still remain, official sources said.
The ISA is crucial for U.S. companies bidding for big ticket Indian deals to partner with Indian private industry, especially the multi-billion dollar deal for 114 fighter jets.
As part of efforts for co-development and co-production of military hardware, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Defence Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) is also expected to be signed that “will act as a guide to coordinate projects.”
In addition, there are several big ticket defence deals in the works, the progress of which will be reviewed. These include the 24 Lockheed Martin MH-60R Multi-Role helicopters worth $2.4bn and 13 BAE Systems built 127 mm MK-45 Naval gun systems, among others. However, threat of U.S. sanctions under CAATSA over S-400 air defence purchases from Russia remains a sticking point.
As part of the larger Indo-Pacific focus, the evolving cooperation between the Quad grouping comprising India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. will also be discussed. While Washington has been pushing for greater military engagement, New Delhi has stated that it doesn’t see any military role for the grouping.
“The 2+2 dialogue is the highest-level institutional mechanism between India and USA that brings together our perspectives on foreign policy, defence and strategic issues,” Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Harsh Vardhan Shringla told news agency PTI in Washington.
“A lot of progress has been made in the areas of foreign policy and defence between our two countries and we are looking forward to a highly qualitative meeting,” he added.
In addition, officials say U.S. concerns over the Citizenship Amendment Act and the protests, which the U.S. state department has spoken about twice now, will come up. “We are closely following developments regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act. We urge authorities to protect and respect the right of peaceful assembly. We also urge protesters to refrain from violence,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in Washington on Monday.
U.S. officials in Delhi have also raised continuing restrictions in Kashmir, including the detention of political leaders as recently as last week, and have made regular requests repeatedly for the government to allow U.S. Embassy diplomats to visit Jammu and Kashmir.