India, US hold inaugural edition of 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi

US tries to seal new defence pact with India

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The exercise will involve sea, land, and air forces.

James Mattis, US defence chief, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held discussions with India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi on Thursday.

"We have chose to carry out for the first time a tri-services joint exercise with the United States off the eastern coast of India in 2019", Sitharaman said.

The decision for the tri-service wargames was reached along with the signing of the Communications Compatibility and Secrecy Agreement (COMCASA) this morning. "So we'll work with the Indians, we committed that we will do that", Pompeo said.

None of the four officials who spoke to reporters after the summit but did not take questions mentioned whether the S-400 issue had come up. "With India as a major defence partner, we are elevating our defence relationship to be on a par with our closest allies as we deepen the broader US-India relationship, enhancing our interoperability, our defence trade, our technology innovation and industrial collaboration, and bolstering our people-to-people bonds", Mattis said while speaking to the media after the India-US 2+2 Dialogue.

The world's two largest democracies have drawn closer in recent years, seeking ways to counterbalance China's spreading influence across Asia, notably in Pakistan, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.

Ahead of the talks in New Delhi, a senior U.S. State Department official said the United States was engaged in "very detailed conversations" with India over Washington's request to completely stop India's oil imports from Iran.

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The India-US "2+2" talks, called that because they include the top diplomatic and defence officials of both countries, had been postponed twice ─ the last time when Pompeo was dispatched in July for talks in North Korea. The now India's second-largest weapons supplier.

Once the communications accord is in place it could lead to the sale of an armed version of Guardian drones, as Washington has so far only authorized the sale of unarmed, surveillance versions of the aircraft.

Sources said, USA sanctions on the import of Iranian crude oil and boosting cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region will also be the focus of the talks.

Under current U.S. rules, third countries could face sanctions if they transact with Russian defence or intelligence sectors.

However, the US Congress, on August 1, granted President Donald Trump and Pompeo the power to waive sanctions. The United States has emerged as India's second largest arms supplier, closing $15 billion worth of deals in the past decade.

"We see the Indo-Pacific as a free, open and inclusive concept, with ASEAN centrality at the core and defined by a common rules-based order that both our countries are pursuing", the minister said, adding India welcomed the US' interest in expanding its economic footprint in the region as they "complement our own efforts".

"Acknowledging the unique role of technology in the India-U.S. defense partnership, the Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to continue to encourage and prioritize co-production and co-development projects through the Defense Technology and Trade Initiatiative", the statement noted.

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