United States (US) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis held long-delayed talks on Thursday with top Indian officials, looking to shore up the alliance with one of Washington’s top regional partners.
The so-called “2+2″talks were scheduled to last just a few hours and focus on strategic and security topics.
They came amid a series of divisive issues, including Washington’s demands that India stop buying Iranian oil and a Russian air-defence system and news reports that President Donald Trump had privately mimicked the accent of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But with trade and strategic ties growing quickly between the US and India, both countries have been keen to downplay potential diplomatic troubles.
“Freedom means that at times nations don’t agree with each other,” Mattis told reporters on his way to India, when asked about India’s plans to buy a sophisticated Russian air-defence system. “That doesn’t mean we can’t be partners. That doesn’t mean we don’t respect the sovereignty of those nations.”
The India-US “2+2” talks, called that because they include the top diplomatic and defence officials of both countries, had been postponed twice ─ the last time when Pompeo was dispatched in July for talks in North Korea.
Pompeo and India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met separately on Thursday before joining top defence officials for talks.
“India attaches the highest priority to its strategic partnership with the United States. We see that the United States is our partner of choice,” Swaraj said in her opening remarks.
Pompeo said the US values its relationship with India, and noted, “We fully support India’s rise.”
Mattis and Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sithataman also met separately before joining the other two leaders for talks.
Sitharaman in her opening remarks said that defence cooperation established itself as one of the most significant dimensions of the countries’ relationship.
“We have acquired various advanced defence platforms from the US. We are thus partners in building defence capability in the broadest sense of the term,” she said.
She also said the two countries were putting in place a framework for closer cooperation between their militaries and defence establishments. She invited US companies to become active partners in India’s efforts to promote the local defence industry.