Pompeo and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis are scheduled to meet with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday, to discuss strengthening ties between the two countries.
Experts say the so-called “2+2” talks should bring the two countries’ militaries closer together while allowing them to iron out differences over issues such as Russia and Iran.
Here’s what to expect from the high-level talks.
The U.S. hopes India will finally sign onto to the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) on Thursday, after more than a year of negotiations. The deal would allow India to buy sensitive U.S. military hardware, including armed Sea Guardian drones. The U.S. has never sold one of the drones to a country outside the NATO alliance.
India has called COMCASA “intrusive,” because it forces the Indian military to use encrypted U.S. communications networks on whatever equipment it buys.
However, reports from Reuters and several Indian media outlets suggest New Delhi might be ready to drop its opposition to COMCASA.
“That would be a big deal, if that announcement came out of this,” said Alyssa Ayres, a former U.S. State Department official and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The U.S. has sold nearly US$15 billion in military equipment to India over the last decade and is the country’s No. 2 weapons supplier after Russia.
Sanctions over Russia and Iran
The U.S. is expected to press India over its reliance on Iranian oil imports, and its decision to buy S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.
U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration have imposed heavy sanctions against Russia and Iran, and have also threatened to sanction countries that trade with either nation. The Iran sanctions are scheduled to be re-imposed in November.
India is expected to ask for waivers under those sanction plans.
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Randal Schriver, the Pentagon’s top Asia official, said there’s no guarantee India will get a waiver for buying Russian missiles. However, he said the U.S. would be open to making a deal to provide some of its own missiles.
“I think we need to sit and have that very open, candid, sober dialogue and see where we come out the other side,” he told Reuters last week.
India has said it will not completely halt oil imports from Iran, but it will finalize its strategy on crude purchases after the meeting with Pompeo.
India has nearly finished negotiating the purchase of the Russian missiles, an Indian defence ministry official told Reuters. The official said the missiles are meant to protect it against China.
India and Russia have been trying to complete the deal ahead of next month when Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit for an annual summit.
Pompeo’s visit to India is the highest-level meeting between the two countries since January 2017, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Trump in Washington.
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— With files from Reuters