Indian and U.S. experts began a three-day consultations on Monday to find meeting points in bilateral relations in preparation for the first-ever meeting of the Ministers for External Affairs and Defence with their U.S. counterparts next month.
The July meeting in Washington DC between Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman and their U.S. counterparts, called the two-plus-two discussions, is expected to further cement the India-U.S. engagements.
According to officials, among the key focus areas of the meeting that began here on Monday morning is finding a breakthrough in concluding the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), one of the four foundational agreements that helps the U.S. to intensify its defence cooperation with a partner nation.
Indications emerging from the U.S. side is that they are keen to stress the importance given to India in its Indo-Pacific strategy. The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) was recently renamed Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), symbolic of the significance U.S. attaches to India in the region.
Apart from the foundational agreements, the U.S. is also keen on a broad based intelligence-sharing agreement with India as the two countries have vastly expanded their counter-terror cooperation. In this context, the fourth foundational agreement, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA), will be significant.
COMCASA and BECA are the two foundational agreements that India is yet to sign. It has already signed the General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). The most significant of them is LEMOA, which gives both nations access to each other’s military facilities. But it does not make it automatic or obligatory.
The U.S. has been engaging India since 2002 on the foundational agreements, but successive governments have been wary of giving in to the U.S. demands.
Sale of drones
The COMCASA will facilitate transfer of encrypted communications systems. The agreements are a key requirement by Washington for sharing h-tech military hardware, especially armed drones which the U.S. is willing to supply to India. Sale of armed drones is high on the agenda of the 2+2 dialogue.
New Delhi has shed its traditional reluctance and has been open to COMCASA, with both sides holding several rounds of discussions in recent times. There have been widespread expectations that a broad understanding could be reached ahead of the 2+2 dialogue.
However, India had concerns on some of the clauses and the language, which both sides would attempt to address in the discussions.
As part of improving high tech cooperation, India and the U.S. announced the ambitious Defence Technology and Trade Initiative and India was designated a major defence partner. But it has not made any progress.