The US-India two plus two dialogue (2+2 dialogue) was scheduled for July 6 and was going to be the first simultaneous meeting of Indian and American defence and external affairs ministers — Nirmala Sitharaman and Sushma Swaraj from India, and James Mattis and Michael Pompeo from the United States – in a format that was announced last August. The dialogue was to focus on “strengthening strategic, security and defense cooperation”. The postponement of the 2+2 dialogue has been major blow to Indo-US ties.
Politicians and bureaucrats hold different opinions about the delaying of the 2+2 summit. The main reason for the postponement of the summit was due to American preoccupation with the crucial forthcoming four days summit between United States President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, Finland.The two leaders are likely to discuss issues related to national security as well as the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
The Trump administration dumped a much-anticipated and much-deferred US-India 2+2 dialogue because secretary of state Mike Pompeo has rushed to Pyongyang on 7 July to follow up North Koreas backsliding from its pledge to denuclearise.Since meeting Kim in Singapore last month Trump has been bullish about hopes for peace, boating that the threat of nuclear war is over. But the statement that the leaders signed was short on clear commitments.
The much-awaited US-India ‘two-plus-two’ dialogue may now be held in New Delhi instead of Washington, as per reports. While the date hasn’t officially been announced yet, the bilateral talks are likely to be held in early September. The reported shift in the venue in the high-level talks between the Indian foreign and defence ministers and their US counterparts comes after the dialogue has already been postponed twice by the US earlier.
The dialogue was to address issues of communications, compatibility and security meeting (COMCASA). As per the report, Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and their American counterparts Mike Pompeo and US defence secretary James Mattis, the agenda of the talks is for ‘long-term linkages with a focus on the Afghanistan peace process, terrorism, and maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region’.
A key discussion will also take place on the US policy towards countries that do business with Iran and Russia so that there is broad convergence on the issue. It is important to note that India buys Iranian oil while Russia is a major supplier of defence equipment. As per the report the national security advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval may visit Washington to settle things for September and bring clarity on COMCASA.
In case Washington agrees to New Delhi as the venue for the dialogue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also meet the two US principals. The dialogue will be a milestone in the US-India bilateral ties as it will advance the defence cooperation, surveillance helicopters as well as the Quad process involving India, Japan, Australia and the US to work with other nations of South-East Asia for informal grouped protection of shipping lanes in several straits as China’s influence grown in the region.
“The postponement by the United States did not seem to have anything to do with India, instead it is due to scheduling reasons for the two secretaries Pompeo and Mattis for issues deemed more urgent,” said the sources. Experts said there was speculation on differences between India and the US on Iran sanctions and purchase of armament from Russia and also differences on trade tariffs imposed by Trump on steel and other goods on China and India resulting in a trade war.
According to reports, the U.S. State Department had earlier told media in Washington that the Trump Administration had asked India and China to stop all imports of Iranian oil by November 4 or face sanctions. It is believed the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley in New Delhi told the Indian leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi that it is important for India to cut its dependence on Iranian oil. She also confirmed that Washington would soon be imposing sanctions on Tehran for its going ahead with nuclearisation even for peaceful purposes.
Tehran will always remain an important part of New Delhi’s foreign policy. As Trump takes an extreme view of sanctions against Iran, it may constrain India’s maneuvering space significantly, if New Delhi is not careful. Iran moved back into third place as a source for energy in 2016, soon after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) unshackled global engagement with Tehran. India needs Iran for link to Central Asia and Russia and it wants to use Iran’s Chabahar port not only as an access point for Afghanistan, but also link it to the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).Iran will therefore remain key to India’s foreign policy matrix.
India has very swiftly moved towards acquiring five advance S-400 Triumf Air Defence Missile Systems from Russia costing Rs 39,000 crore despite the looming threat of US sanctions. Once India inducts S-400 systems, the vital installations like nuclear power plants and nuclear arsenal will be well protected and taken care of. These long-range missile systems will tighten its air defence mechanism, particularly all along the nearly 4,000-km-long Sino-India border. India and Russia have worked on a roadmap to get around the financial sanctions flowing out of the recent US law called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) that seeks to deter countries from buying Russian weapons.
India is now one of the fastest growing economy and is also one of the biggest market in the world for investment though it cannot be compared with the economy of the US, China, ASEAN and EU because of its restrictive policies that hinder infrastructure and growth. However, its intelligent population, nuclear assets, stable democracy and one of the best armies cannot be ignored.
There is a talk India will teach Pakistan a lesson to stop China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) because it concerns India’s sovereignty and India will look to USA’s support. India is a net security provider for the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) goaded by USA.
China too craves to take over a joint security role in IOR like USA did in the Cold War and looks to bases like India does. Addressing a joint press conference after official bilateral talks with Danny Antoine Rollen Faure, President of the Republic of Seychelles in New Delhi recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India had agreed to extend a $100 million line of credit to Seychelles Assumption Island to allow it to buy defence equipment from India. It will please the Seychelles opposition to concede. USA supports India and also looks to an Indian base in Socotra.
China has spent nearly five years steering an ever-growing stream of hundreds of billions of dollars to a bold plan to gain greater global influence by funding big projects across Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. The value of the deals Chinese firms are striking under President Xi Jinping’s ambitious project one Belt and one Road Initiative (BRI) is smaller now than a year ago, according to new data.
Amid the escalation of a trade conflict with the US under Trump, Chinese officials are sounding a cautious note, voicing worries that Chinese institutions are skeptical as to how much they lend under the programme to make sure the international borrowers have capacity to pay it back.
However, China has its limitations due to restricted finances. Its economy is showing signs of slowing, and it is in the middle of a trade war with the US. An uncertain global outlook has given Beijing even more reasons to be cautious. A protracted trade war between the US and other countries, particularly China, could shake confidence and stunt growth.
In September 2+2 summitIndia will be under pressure and find itselfin ‘catch 22 position’ because it cannot agree with all the unjustified diktats of Trump – stop import of oil from Iran, not to purchase defence hardware from Russia, reduce tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles – he feels theworld including India is treating US like a piggy bank in dealing with world trade deals.
India has already approved the purchase of S-4000 Air Defence Missile System from Russia overlooking the US missiles. New Delhi and Moscow have new military projects worth $12 billion hanging in the balance, as is the question of maintaining the huge inventory of Russian origin weapons in the defence forces.All these differences need to be thrashed out during the September 2+2 summit on priority basis.