India and the United States will hold the inaugural 2+2 meeting of their defense and foreign ministers in Washington on July 6, the US state department announced Thursday, ending months of uncertainty dogged by postponements and cancellations over scheduling and personnel changes.
US secretary of state Michael R Pompeo and secretary of defense James Mattis will host external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and minister of defence Nirmala Sitharaman for the first meeting. The two sides are expected to share perspectives on strengthening their strategic and security ties and exchange views on a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.
This will be the first simultaneous meeting of the Indian defence and external affairs ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Sushma Swaraj and their US counterparts James Mattis and Mike Pompeo in a format announced last August after a call between Prime Minister Narendra modi and President Donald Trump.
The dialogue is seen as a vehicle to elevate the strategic relationship between the two countries. And in the subsequent weeks, the US was focussed solely on President Trump’s meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. India has proposed July 6, as reported by Hindustan Times earlier, but had to wait for a confirmation from Washington DC, which finally came through.
The two sides will be expecting to discuss a whole range of issues in defence and external affairs such as cooperation on counter-terrorism, which is always accorded high priority by the countries, and Afghanistan, which received a significant pitch in President Trump’s new South Asia strategy.
At the July meeting, officials will “focus on strengthening strategic, security, and defense cooperation as the United States and India jointly confront global challenges”, said the state department in a statement. Officials expect to discuss, specifically, the indirect impact of US sanctions on Russia and Iran. A major Indian defence deal for the Russian S-400 air defence systems is at risk of attracting secondary sanction from the US unless an exception was made, as proposed and backed by Mattis and Pompeo.
The meeting will take place among growing defense and diplomatic ties and convergence but increasing trade differences caused by President Trump’s decision to slap a tariff of 25% and 10% on steel and aluminium imports. India has retaliated with its own tariffs on imports from the US and has also challenged Trump’s tariffs at the World Trade Organization. Trade is a separate discussion but and new and continuing issues are being thrashed out by the two countries in other forums.
Earlier this year, the ‘2+2 dialogue’ had been postponed due to uncertainty over the confirmation of Mike Pompeo as President Donald Trump’s new Secretary of State. Pompeo was later confirmed as Secretary of State in April.
“I think it is a dramatic signal suggesting that DOD (department of defense) is taking the challenges of managing the unified Indo-Pacific space seriously,” Ashley Tellis, a leading US expert on South Asia and Asia had said at the time. “It is a task well begun but far from finished,” he had added.