The US and India yesterday began talks in New Delhi to deepen political and security ties, with officials signing an accord on military communications that could lead to increased US arms sales to the South Asian giant.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Indian Minister of Defense Nirmala Sitharaman in a two-plus-two setting.
The world’s two largest democracies have drawn closer, seeking ways to counterbalance China’s spreading influence across Asia, notably in Pakistan, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.
“My visit is a firm indicator of what we see as India’s place among our most strategic, and I would even call them ‘consequential,’ emerging partners,” Mattis told reporters.
The Indian and US governments signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement, which could open up the way for sales of more sensitive US military equipment to India.
“We have been discussing how we can more openly communicate back and forth because of the sensitivity of some of the technology... We have to know that when we share this with another like-minded nation, that we can keep it secure,” Mattis said.
The US has emerged as India’s second-largest arms supplier, closing US$15 billion of deals in the past decade.
The accord 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.
Experts believe the signing of the agreement could also reduce the chances of the US imposing sanctions on India for looking to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.
The US has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia, under which any nation engaged with its defense and intelligence sectors could face secondary US sanctions.
However, a new defense bill proposes giving the US president authority to grant waivers when national security interests are at stake.
The US is also pushing nations to halt oil imports from Iran after US President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers that was intended to stall Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.
India is Iran’s top oil buyer after China, and it is seeking a waiver from the US.
Ahead of the talks in New Delhi, a senior US Department of State official said that the US was engaged in “very detailed conversations” with India over Washington’s request to completely stop India’s oil imports from Iran.
“We’re asking all of our partners, not just India, to reduce to zero oil imports from Iran and so I’m confident that will be part of our conversation with India,” the official told reporters traveling with Pompeo.
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