The United States and India began talks in New Delhi Thursday to deepen defense and security ties between the countries. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis held discussions with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
In the two hours long meeting, the countries signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) which will allow the South Asian country to buy sensitive U.S. military equipment.
Arms export from the U.S. to the country jumped 557% between 2013-17 as compared to 2008-12, a Stockholm-based think tank, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in a report released in March.
India spent more than US$100 billion on buying new weapons and systems during 2008-17, with imports accounting for around 60-65% of the country’s military requirements.
Russia, the country’s top arms supplier, accounted for 62% of India’s arms imports in 2013–17, followed by the U.S. (15%) and Israel (11%), the SIPRI report said.
In February, India allocated around US$44.25 billion for military spending during 2018-2019 which is a hike of 7.8% over the previous year.
Both India and the US have been keen to sign COMCASA which has now opened the way for sales of more sensitive US military equipment to India. Once the accord is in place, it will lead to selling an armed version of Guardian drones. Washington has so far only authorized the sale of unarmed surveillance versions of the aircraft.
The agreement may also reduce the chance of India being sanctioned by the U.S. for looking to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems. These sanctions might come as a result of United States’ sweepíng sanctions on Russia under which any country engaged with its defense and intelligence sectors could face secondary U.S. sanctions. But a new defense bill proposes authorizing the US president to grant waivers when national security interests are at stake.
"This meeting was focused on regional stability in South Asia, South-East Asia, and the Indo-Pacific ... India being a part of groups like the ASEAN also helps greatly in this endeavor," Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said. "In today's meeting we have agreed to speed up the process of India's entry into the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group)," she added.
“Defense came out as the single most important aspect of our discussions today,” Nirmala Sitharaman said.
Before coming to India, Pompeo held talks in Islamabad with Pakistan’s recently elected government and senior generals.
The groups' discussions included Washington's request for India to end oil imports from Iran, which would fall in line with President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal. India, one of the largest buyers of Iranian oil after China, so far has a waiver.