New Delhi: Ahead of the first ever “2+2" talks between India and the US, New Delhi on Tuesday seemed to play down expectations from the discussions that are being looked at as a chance to overcome friction points and open a new chapter in bilateral ties.
Describing the “2+2" talks, which brings together the US secretaries of state and defence Mike Pompeo and James Mattis with their Indian counterparts, as one of the “major diplomatic events" on the Indian calendar, one person aware of the developments said that New Delhi hoped that the discussions would build on the already extensive edifice of bilateral ties.
Pompeo and Mattis are to arrive in New Delhi on Wednesday for the talks that are to take place on Thursday. The US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Joseph Dunford will also be in New Delhi for the talks.
“By engaging with us in this format, there is a recognition that we are an independent player and an important country," the person mentioned above said, adding there was similarity and convergence with the US in some areas and differences in others.
Once seen as on opposite sides during the Cold War, India-US ties have warmed steadily in the past two decades with the world’s largest and oldest democracies now calling each other strategic partners.
The twice postponed talks, however, come amid the emergence of tensions between India and the US most notably over trade and proposed US sanctions on those importing oil from Iran and defence equipment from Russia. The former comes after the US announced it was pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the latter follows alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US elections.
There are also differences in perception between India and the US on the concept of the Indo-Pacific with the US looking at India as an alternative to balance China whose rise in Asia was being viewed with alarm by countries in its immediate neighbourhood. India, on the other hand, views the region as “open and inclusive".
Also on the cards are discussions to finalise a pact on encrypted defence technologies, the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement as well as India’s concerns over the Trump administration’s decision to make changes in the H-1B visa programme.
On the US imposing sanctions on India over its oil imports with Iran, the person mentioned above said Tehran was a major partner of New Delhi in the region. India was of the view that Iran should not develop nuclear weapons. However, New Delhi was in favour of Tehran being allowed access to peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the person said.
India is meeting 83% of its crude oil requirements from outside. Of this, close to 25% comes from Iran, the person said, adding that New Delhi would like to hear from the US about alternative sources and prices at which these could be accessed.
“At the end of it all, the decision has to be made independently by the Government of India," the person said. “It is not going to be made under any kind of compulsion" either from the US or Iran, he said.
On India developing Iran’s Chabahar port, the person said that this was a humanitarian and development project seen by India as a means to stabilise Afghanistan.
On India’s decision to buy the S-400 Triumf air defence system from Russia and Washington’s objections to it, the person mentioned above said, “This is a matter for the US administration to take a call on and exercise a waiver based on the consideration of its relations with other countries."