Here’s what is in store for India’s 2+2 talks with the US


After months of cancellations and going back-and-forth, India will finally sit down with the US this week for its first edition of the bilateral “2+2” talks. In what is sure to be deemed as historic, the Indian government will be represented by two women, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Foreign Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. They will meet with their US counterparts - Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - in India.

The main objective of the talks is the ramping up of cooperation between the two countries in the spheres of security and intelligence-sharing as well as a resolution of certain trade issues. More specifically, here is what will be discussed during the dialogue:

Hotlines between high-ranking military officials

There has been an emphasis on the need for more direct communication linkages, not only between the defence and external affairs ministers of both countries, but also between high-ranking officials in the Indian Navy and the US Naval Command operation in Bahrain. This is in recognition of the leadership role India can take in anti-terrorism and anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean region. A similar hotline exists between the UK and India and is currently being discussed with China.

An agreement for the sharing of sensitive data

The two sides are set to discuss and ratify the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). The agreement establishes a framework for the secure sharing of intelligence and communication equipment between the US, India and allies of the US that use the former’s equipment. It is expected to receive an “in-principle approval” from both parties. While India will benefit from access to encrypted technologies for data sharing, it will tread cautiously in terms of giving the US too much access to its own communication equipment for military purposes.

India’s membership of a coalition to counter ISIS funding

The US is reportedly looking to get India to join the Counter ISIS Finance Group (CIFG), a coalition to prevent ISIS’s access to funding from international sources. The group, which was set up in early 2015, comprises of 49 members and is chaired by the US, Italy and Saudi Arabia. In regards to India’s possible membership, the US will discuss a number of issues such as cyber security as well as a strategy to tackle terrorism financing and online recruitment of youths to ISIS.

Trade issues

The topic of trade could definitely come up over the course of the talks. India and US are currently sparring over a number of issues when it comes to trade. These include India’s tariffs on US agricultural goods, a relaxation of preferential treatment for India at the WTO owing to its “developing country status” and India’s export subsidies. India, meanwhile, is unhappy with the way US benefits from WTO norms that exempts its agricultural subsidies from scrutiny. The 2+2 talks could set the course for the potential resolution of some of these issues.

India’s ties with Russia and Iran

India will try and secure an arrangement with the US that allows it to go ahead, in some capacity, with its relationship with Russia and Iran, both of which are subject to US sanctions. With respect to Iran, India would like to keep importing crude oil from the country. And with respect to Russia, India is set to go ahead with a deal to purchase S-400 air missile systems from the country. It will be seeking a waiver from the US for both of these transactions.
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