New Delhi: Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday met his US counterpart Mark Esper in Bangkok, the first meeting between the two since Esper was confirmed as the US Secretary of Defence in July. Regional security and bilateral defence cooperation were key issues that were discussed, an Indian defence ministry statement said.
“Had an excellent meeting with US Secretary of Defence, Dr. Mark T Esper in Bangkok today. We talked about ways to expand defence cooperation between India and the United States," Singh said on the micro-blogging and social networking website Twitter.
The two are in Bangkok for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defence Ministers’ Meet and the talks between the two took place on the sidelines of the ASEAN meet.
The defence ministry statement said Singh welcomed the growing bilateral cooperation between the two sides “across a wide range of sectors including defence and security, economy, energy, counter-terrorism and people-to-people ties".
In the maritime domain, both countries were also working together in the area of security including elements such as joint exercises, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations and Maritime Domain Awareness, the statement quoted Singh as telling Esper.
Singh added that there was “growing convergence between India and US in the Indo-Pacific region and India’s vision for Indo-Pacific is for a free and open, peaceful, prosperous and inclusive region supported by a rules-based order and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity", the defence ministry statement said. Singh stressed that the ASEAN was “central to India’s vision of Indo-Pacific", the statement said.
The meeting between Singh and Esper comes before he has to travel, along with foreign minister S Jaishankar, to the US next month for the 2+2 meet between India and the US, where they will go down across the table with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Esper.
The 2+2 dialogue format was instituted after the Trump administration took office doing away with strategic and commercial dialogue and instead of having a new framework involving the foriegn and defence ministers of the two countries.
The defence ministry statement said Singh and Esper had “discussed a number of other issues concerning regional security and bilateral defence cooperation".
“The meeting ended on a positive note and Singh looked forward to have substantial discussions during the forthcoming 2+2 dialogue in Washington DC later next month," it said.
The first round of the 2+2 talks took place in New Delhi last year when both sides had signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) that gave India access to advanced US defence systems such as armed drones that have been used with other American equipment. According to people familiar with the developments, India and the US are expected to sign the industrial security pact, known as the Industrial Security Annex (ISA), in this round of the 2+2 talks. The ISA will pave the way for the transfer of high-level technologies from the US to India and safeguard classified military information. The pact is expected to boost the participation of US defence firms in ‘Make in India’ projects through the India-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) that was established in 2012.
The DTTI was expected to propel defence cooperation between the two countries through the co-development of defence systems by India and the US. But the initiative failed to yield desired results. With the ISA becoming operational, however, the DTTI is expected to get a new lease of life.