India and the U.S. will hold their fourth annual ‘2+2’ Defence and Foreign Ministry dialogue on April 11 in Washington, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine looming over the discussions and occupying a prominent place on the agenda.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who arrived in Washington on Saturday night, and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, arrived on Sunday, will meet their counterparts, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in the first such dialogue of the Biden administration.
The last meeting in this format was in October 2020. Last year’s meeting was pushed back multiple times, owing to scheduling conflicts, including — notably — a visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin to New Delhi in December 2021.
The agenda for discussion is broad, reflecting the breadth of the “Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership” between the two countries. The two sides will discuss defence, science and technology (particularly emerging technology), climate and public health (particularly cooperation on managing the COVID-19 pandemic), fortifying and building supply chains, as well as people to people ties, as per the readouts of the talks from the U.S. State and Defense Departments.
India and the U.S. will continue their “close consultations on the consequences of President Putin’s brutal war against Ukraine and mitigating the impact by addressing energy and food prices”, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday. India has raised the issue of commodity price impacts of the war, including at the United Nations. It has also purchased oil at a discounted price from Moscow — a move that has ruffled feathers in the Biden administration. The U.S. has said it is willing to help provide alternatives to India’s sourcing of oil from Moscow — which accounts for 1–2% of its energy imports. This is likely to feature in the week’s discussions.
American President’s Deputy National Security Advisor, Daleep Singh, visited New Delhi in the last week of March to discourage New Delhi from violating U.S. sanctions. India has pushed back against the notion that U.S. sanctions are applicable to third party countries but has also had to work with the fact that the U.S. banking and financial system still underpins much of the global financial system. Discussions around the impact of sanctions and India’s position in the Russia–Ukraine conflict will be part of Monday’s discussions.
“Obviously, it could cover a range of topics, but we expect that [the war in Ukraine ] to be a central one,” Ms. Psaki had said.
In addition to meeting in the 2+2 format, the Defence and Foreign Mministry principals will hold bilateral meeting with their own counterparts on Monday.
Big ticket defence deals under discussion
Several big ticket defence deals are in the pipeline, especially for the Navy. The purchase of 30 Predator armed drones for the three Services is in advanced stages but has been delayed pending approval from the Defence Acquisition Council.
Another major deal is a Navy tender for around 26 deck based fighter aircraft for its existing INS Vikramaditya and the indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant which is scheduled to be commissioned in August.
In this context, Boeing is set to demonstrate the compatibility of its F/A-18 Super Hornet Indian Navy’s Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) in Goa, officials said. Its competitor, French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation, has already carried out demonstration of its Rafale–M fighter jet.
A deal for six more P–8I maritime patrol aircraft is in the works, while the Navy will start receiving the first batch of three MH–60R multi–role helicopters in June, contracted as part of a deal for 24 helicopters.
Jaishankar to meet several Biden Cabinet members
While the U.S. Congress is in recess, Mr. Jaishankar is expected to meet officials in the executive branch of the U.S. government, specifically members of the Biden Cabinet. India’s U.S. Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu and his team have been reaching out to U.S. officials and Members of Congress to explain and manage differences in the relative positions the two countries have on the Russia–Ukraine conflict, Mr. Jaishankar is expected to build on these efforts during these talks. He comes to Washington DC after having recent conversations not just with Mr. Blinken but also Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was in New Delhi on March 25.
On this list of Cabinet meetings is United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai — who has led the U.S. side as India and the U.S. relaunched their Trade Policy Forum after four years last November to progress the bilateral trade relationship. A result of those negotiations were the opening up of U.S. markets to Indian mangoes and pomegranate and the Indian market to American pork, cherries and alfalfa hay.
Also on the cards is a meeting between Mr. Jaishankar and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The Secretary had tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday , one of several guests Gridiron Club Dinner on April 2, an annual dinner hosted by the journalist club to fall ill. She went into home isolation for five days and would return to work after testing negative, the Commerce Department announced on Wednesday.
In addition to interactions at think tanks, a visit by Mr. Jaishankar to Howard University in DC is on the schedule, a U.S. government source indicated to The Hindu. The university is a ‘Historically Black College and University (HBCU)‘, an organisation that educated African American students prior to 1964 , i.e., during the segregation era. It is also the alma mater of several powerful Washington residents, notably Vice–President Kamala Harris and Gregory Meeks, the chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Hindu has learnt that a meeting between the External Affairs Minister and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is also in the works.