Sushma, Sitharaman to visit Washington for strategic 2+2 Dialogue….writes Arul Louis from Washington
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will hold the first strategic 2+2 Dialogue with their US counterparts on July 6 in Washington, the State Department announced on Thursday.
Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis will host the Indian ministers at the meeting that “will focus on strengthening strategic, security, and defence cooperation as the United States and India jointly confront global challenges”, the Department said.
The ministerial meeting was announced during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Donald Trump last July.
It was to have been held in April, but was postponed because of changes in the leadership of the State Department after Rex Tillerson resigned and Pompeo was in the process of taking over.
The optics of the Dialogue will break some stereotypes: Two powerful women from India will be sitting across from two men representing the US.
The dialogue is a centrepiece of the growing ties between the US and India which Washington wants to scale up by extending the strategic vision from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean.
Outlining the new approach, Tillerson said last year that India and US were “two bookends of stability on either side of the globe”.
“We need to collaborate with India to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity – so that it does not become a region of disorder, conflict and predatory economics,” he said in a reference to China’s role in the region.
Washington approach also meshes with Modi’s “Act East” policy of building on India’s relations with countries to the east.
An informal quadrilateral system with the Indo-Pacific region’s major democracies, India, the US, Japan and Australia, is also developing.
While the Dialogue is focused on strategic and defence issues, there has been signs of stress in the trade and services sectors.
Tightening of rules on visas for Indian professionals and possibility of increasing tariffs on Indian exports are matters of concern for India, but are not directly on the agenda at the talks.
Besides China and the developments in East and Southeast Asia, other strategic issues of concern — and divergence in some cases — are Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Trump has asked for India’s help in bringing stability to Afghanistan through aid programmes, but by reimposing sanctions on Iran he has threatened those very efforts.
In dealing with the strategic relations, the four officials will have to consider India’s reluctance to wholeheartedly embrace a deep alliance with the US or a bloc overtly opposed to China.
Modi has recently turned his attention to improve relations with China and Russia.
He met China’s President Xi Jinping in Wuhan in April and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin last month.
Meanwhile in East Asia, Trump’s historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has also introduced new factors in the region.