India & US to Explore Ways to Expand & Strengthen Strategic Ties During 2+2 Dialogue on October 27

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India will host the third edition of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue with the United States in New Delhi on October 27, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced on Wednesday. US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper will visit India on October 26 and 27 for the talks, it said in a statement.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will lead the delegations from their respective ministries.

The high-level talks will take place in the midst of India's lingering border row with China in eastern Ladakh as well as a renewed global focus on growing Chinese military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. Both issues are expected to figure in the talks. The US has been severely critical of Chinese behaviour in eastern Ladakh.

Those familiar with the upcoming talks said the overall focus is likely to be on ramping up of defence and security cooperation, including expansion of intelligence sharing as well as military-to-military ties. It is expected that the two sides may finalise the long-pending BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement to further boost defence ties. The BECA will provide for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries.

In Washington, Pompeo said, "Looking forward to my upcoming trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia, for productive conversations with our friends and partners, and the US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue."

"I am looking forward to our 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue with our Indian friends. It was postponed because of the virus. I'm glad that we will be able to execute that in person in just a few days," he said. I'm also sure that my meetings will also include discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart the threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party."

The Indo-US defence ties have been on an upswing in the last few years. In June 2016, the US had designated India a "Major Defence Partner" intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.

The two countries inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provides for deeper cooperation. The two countries signed another pact called COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high end technology from the US to India.

The first edition of the two-plus-two dialogue was held in Delhi in September 2018 after the mechanism was approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump. The second edition of the dialogue took place in Washington in December last year.

The framework of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue was initiated in order to provide a forward-looking vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries.

(With inputs from PTI)