India, US will hold third 2+2 ministerial meeting in New Delhi next week – world news

India and the US will hold their third 2+2 ministerial meeting in New Delhi next week, US secretary of defence Mark Esper said on Tuesday.

He did not rule out the possibility that the two sides may sign a widely anticipated maritime information sharing agreement.

Esper and secretary of state Mike Pompeo will travel to New Delhi for day-long in-person meetings, a rare but significant departure given the Covid-19 pandemic and the global shift to virtual interactions, with their Indian counterparts Rajnath Singh and S Jaishankar on October 27.

Separately, a bipartisan group of 14 US senators jointly expressed “strong support” for India’s decision to formally invite Australia to the upcoming Malabar naval exercises with the US and Japan saying it’s an “invaluable” move from an operational perspective and of “symbolic” importance.

“Secretary Pompeo and I will be there next week,” Esper said at Atlantic Council, a think tank, responding to a question about the upcoming 2+2. “It’s our second two plus two with the Indians, the third ever for the United States and India and it’s very important.”

When pressed on the maritime information sharing agreement that has been widely reportedly to be on the agenda, Esper said, “We have a number of things we’ve been discussing with the Indians for, for some time w’ve made good progress on a number of them but we’ll release information on that when it’s appropriate.”

This will be the third edition of the India-US 2+2 that started with India hosting the first in 2018 in New Delhi; the United States hosted the second in Washington DC in 201.9.

An official announcement with details of the meetings and agenda was expected shortly. The two countries are also reported to sign BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) on sharing of geospatial information, considered the fourth and last of the foundational agreements.

Speaking broadly of ties with India, Esper said India will be “the most consequential partner for us, I think, in the Indo-Pacific for sure, in the century,” noting “they face off every day, the Chinese aggression in the Himalayas, specifically along that line of actual control”.

Of significant developments in the defence sector in the last one year, Esper listed out the first-ever tri-service military exercise – TIGER TRIUMPH – with India, USS Nimitz’s drills with the Indian Navy and the first ever US-India defence cyber dialogue in September.

“As we expand our collaboration into new domains. Together, these efforts will strengthen what may become one of the most consequential partnerships of the 21st century,” he said.

His strong endorsement of ties with India came as14 US senators jointly commended India’s invitation to Australia, in a jointly signed letter to Taranjit Singh Sandhu, the Indian ambassador to the US.

“We write in strong support of India’s decision to formally invite Australia to participate in the annual Exercise Malabar,” the senators wrote. “From an operational perspective, the addition of such a uniquely capable and stalwart partner, like Australia, to this naval exercise is invaluable, providing increased interoperability, strengthening threat assessment abilities and enhancing the maritime roles and missions of the four naval powers.

Equally important, they said, was the “symbolic nature” of the development marking the first time the four countries will engage collectively at the military level since the formation of the Quad and the Quad-plus-Singapore naval exercises held in September 2007.

The signatories were John Corny and Mark Warner, the Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus and Republicans Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, David Perdue, James Lankford, Josh Hawley, Dan Sullivan, Marsha Blackburn, Kelly Loeffler, Martha McSally, Thom Tillis and Kevin Cramer and the second Democrat Chris Coon.

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