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US secretary of state Mike Pompeo with Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at Hyderabad House in New Delhi.reuters
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo with Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at Hyderabad House in New Delhi.reuters

Pompeo, Esper land, all eyes on key defence pact

  • The agreement is expected to give India access to crucial information that will have implications in any potential military conflict, said analysts

India and the US will sign a Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (Beca), the two sides said, setting the stage for a successful round of 2+2 talks between their defence and foreign ministers on Tuesday.

The pact represents a deepening of military ties, a testament to the rapid warming of bilateral relations in a span of two decades.

The agreement is expected to give India access to crucial information that will have implications in any potential military conflict, said analysts. These include access to a range of topographical, nautical and aeronautical data considered key to map hostile movements and precise and real-time information on enemy positions accessed from US military satellites during any potential border conflict, said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

Coming as it does in the middle of tensions between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the implications of Beca are not expected to be lost on Beijing, which has long been suspicious of the growing closeness between New Delhi and Washington.

The 2+2 talks on Tuesday are seen as the last major engagement in Washington’s diplomatic calendar before the US presidential election on 3 November.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo and secretary of defence Mark Esper arrived in New Delhi on Monday. Soon after their separate arrivals, they went into bilateral discussions with their counterparts—foreign minister S. Jaishankar and defence minister Rajnath Singh. Later, the ministers hosted their counterparts to dinner, a person privy to the schedules said.

“This is the third meeting of the 2+2 held regularly since 2018. The fact that it is being held in person and just a week before the US elections shows both countries attach value to the talks. It also shows bipartisan support for the India-US ties and convergence of political, diplomatic and security dimensions of the cooperation," said former Indian ambassador to the US, Arun Singh.

“Historically, the India-US relationship has been affected by the prevailing global trends. In this case, the rise of China is giving the necessary tailwind. This has gained further impetus with China’s aggressive posturing in the South China Sea, against Taiwan, along LAC and the East China Sea, besides its Wolf Warrior diplomacy," he added.

A statement from India’s defence ministry said Singh and Esper “reviewed bilateral defence cooperation spanning military to military cooperation, secure communication systems and information sharing, defence trade and industrial issues and also discussed ways to take bilateral cooperation forward."

While expressing satisfaction at the “close engagements between the respective armed forces", they also explored “potential new areas of cooperation," it said.

“Both ministers expressed satisfaction that agreement of Beca will be signed during the visit. US secretary of defence welcomed Australia’s participation in the exercise Malabar 2020," it said. The second was a reference to Australia joining the naval exercises that so far included the US, India and Japan. It adds a naval dimension to the “Quad"—comprising India, Japan, US and Australia, a grouping that China has been deeply suspicious of.

The talks between Pompeo and Jaishankar were “warm and productive", a person privy to the talks said.

There was a review of “bilateral ties over the last four years," under the Trump administration with both sides “satisfied that they have grown in virtually every domain including trade, energy, defence and education."

Jaishankar raised the issue of tightening rules for those applying for H-1B visas, stressing on “the uniqueness of our technology and talent flow connects".

After the “2+2" talks, Pompeo and Esper will call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Though India has been circumspect about issues on the table, the border row with China is expected to figure in the talks. Speaking to reporters last week, Pompeo said: “I’m also sure my meetings will include talls on how free nations can work together to thwart the threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party."

US secretary of defence Mark Esper in New Delhi on Monday.
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US secretary of defence Mark Esper in New Delhi on Monday.
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