America’s top defense official and top diplomat made their best effort to smooth over any areas of tension between Washington and New Delhi, and they were able to come to an agreement with their Indian counterparts on Thursday on a new security agreement.
At stake was Washington’s goal to increase security cooperation, including arms sales, with New Delhi at a time when India is balancing its relationship with the US with ties to BRICS partners China and Russia.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has notably decided to purchase Russian-made S-400 missile systems, despite US opposition, a move that US Defense Secretary James Mattis played down on his way to India this week.
“I want you to remember that freedom means that at times, nations don’t agree with each other. That doesn’t mean we can’t be partners,” he told reporters regarding the S-400 purchase.
After the “2+2” dialogue, which included Mattis’ and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Indian counterparts, the two sides announced the signing of the COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement), which Mattis said paved the way for sharing “sensitive technology” with India.
Pompeo hailed the development as marking a new height in US-India cooperation.
“The kickoff of the 2+2 was pretty special, a historic level of relationship that the two countries have not previously had,” Pompeo said, speaking at a press breifing. “We’re happy that we were able to announce two agreements with India, the COMCASA agreement, and we also agreed to enhance our military cooperation with India as our major defense partner,” he added.
Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also said that, with the increased military cooperation between the two countries, bilateral ties had risen to “a new level.”
As for what weapons India is looking at purchasing from the US, the director of the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Lieutenant-General Charlie Hooper, said simply that discussions were under way to sell “many, many systems” to India, according to the Financial Times.
Another US official reportedly said India’s shopping list included advanced drones, helicopters and fighter jets, including F-16 and F-18 aircraft to replace Russian models.
Pompeo played up the friendly optics of the event on social media:
Excited to be in #Delhi with Sec Mattis @DeptofDefense to engage with our strategic partner #India @SushmaSwaraj & @nsitharaman on critical diplomatic & security priorities at the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue #2Plus2Dialogue @StateDept pic.twitter.com/Ecb1ljck5p
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 6, 2018