US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper are expected to reach Delhi this afternoon for talks with India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar and defence minister Rajnath Singh. The first round of talks between Jaishankar and Pompeo will kick-off at Hyderabad House early evening. The last of the four foundation agreements needed for the closer India-US defence co-operation is expected to be signed during the visit.
The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) will give India expertise on geospatial intelligence, which simply puts means it will help to give more accuracy to forces when using weapons like cruise, ballistic missiles, and drones. It will make mission planning much easier, as it also provides geographical co-ordinates and feeds in real-time data. The other agreements India had to sign were the General Security and Military Agreement in 2002, The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016, and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018.
This will be the third round of discussions under the 2+2 format, which began in 2018, and reflects the growing warmth between India and the US. Foreign and defence ministers exchange views with their counterparts and are largely focused on security and regional and international issues. China’s muscle-flexing across Asia, whether in Ladakh, the Taiwan Straits, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea will be part of the conversation. The post-Covid situation in Asia and across the world will also be on the table. America hopes for much more co-ordination between the Indian and US navies in ensuring freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific.
``The 2+2 format is reserved for our closest friends and partners and reflects our belief that the United States and India, are stronger, more secure, and more prosperous when we work together.’’ US officials said at a briefing ahead of the Pompeo and Esper visit to Delhi.
Many in India are surprised that Pompeo and Esper are on Asia visit just a week before the US presidential elections, slated for November 3. Usually ahead of polls, most governments do not undertake major policy initiatives. But the Trump White House is not one which bothers about such niceties. However since there is bipartisan support for improved India-US ties, and a Democratic government will not walk back from any agreement reached with India, no one is making a fuss. Both the Republicans and the Democrats want India to act as a balancing factor against China in Asia. Barak Obama’s pivot to Asia was mainly to counter China in the Indo-Pacific.
On Tuesday, before the 2+2 conversations begin, Secretary Pompeo will lay a wreath at the war memorial, a departure from the traditional visit of dignitaries to Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi in Rajghat. The meeting on Tuesday begins at 10 in the morning. In between, there is a joint call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The American duo will also meet with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.