Consequential, strategic milestone says US on first 2+2 dialogue


Washington, Sep 11: The first India-US 2+2 Dialogue in New Delhi was "consequential and a strategic milestone", a senior Trump administration official said Monday, asserting that the decisions taken during the talks is generational in nature and propelled the bilateral relationship to a new level.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman held the crucial talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis on September 6.

Also Read | '2+2' dialogue: India-US relationship has immense potential, says Sitharaman

Alice Wells, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, in a phone call with reporters from India and US, said that dialogue was "consequential".

"It was more than a meeting. We view it as a strategic milestone. It was a long time in the making between the two world powers, the world's two largest democracies to talk about or shared vision for the future," she said.

And this began in this administration, when President Donald Trump met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June last year. At that meeting, the two leaders saw the great convergence of the two governments and people not just in terms of a shared desire for closer strategic and defense sides, but also a convergence and values and ambitions for the coming decades, she said.

In the year since the two countries have had several major milestones in the relationship from the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in November in Hyderabad, to the revival of dialogue with quadrilateral partners, Japan and Australia, to the US government granting India's Strategic Trade Authorisation (STA), Tier one status, the same authorisation that NATO allies, Japan, South Korea, Australia, enjoy, Wells said.

She said the finalisation of COMCASA, the communications compatibility and security agreement, was "truly a historic step forward" that will facilitate greater interoperability between the two forces, enhanced intelligence and information sharing and ensure that India has access to top tier US military technology in the years ahead.

"We also agreed to begin negotiations on the Industrial Security Annex, which will support a closer, defence industry collaboration and to pursue an agreement to share geospatial information," Wells said.

"Then to top it off, we announced the creation of the first US India tri-service military exercise as well as the exchanges have officers from our Navies in our respective defense innovation establishment," the US diplomat said.

Also Read | 2+2 dialogue: India-US sign COMCASA agreement, discuss cross-border terror

According to Wells, these initiatives really are about building out India's unique status as a major US defence partner.

The two governments have dedicated a lot of effort to operationalising this concept, not only to improve military cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions, but also to strengthen strategic and diplomatic engagement on shared regional priorities, she said.

"Whether that's a secure and stable Afghanistan or countering a terrorist threats, both of us see as the major defense partner relationship with India, has made tremendous contributions to advancing security and stability in the region for decades to come," she said.

Giving a readout of the 2+2 meeting, Wells said leaders of the two countries had extensive discussions and their shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific based on the ideas that President Trump and Prime Minister Modi outlined in their respective speeches that Da Nang (Vietnam) and at the Shangri La dialogue in Singapore.

"We agreed on concrete steps to work together to promote a transparent, sustainable infrastructure development to spur private sector led growth, to protect the fundamental liberties and national sovereignty and to resolve territorial and maritime disputes peacefully," Wells said.

She said the two countries has had some frank and open conversations on the trade relationship.

Noting that this is an area where there's much more work that remains to be done, she said both sides acknowledged that expanding fair and reciprocal trade was in their shared interest and would contribute to the prosperity of their peoples.

"Of course, close cooperation with India is already a key element of the Trump Administration. The 2+2 really allowed us to look even further ahead to the challenges and opportunities facing us in the next decades," Wells said.

The India-US 2+2 Dialogue would be held annually, she added.

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