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WASHINGTON: The United States and India will hold their inaugural “2+2 Dialogue” in New Delhi on September 6, the State Department announced on Friday.

US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James Mattis will participate in the dialogue while Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman will represent India.

The meeting will discuss various measures for strengthening strategic, security, and defence cooperation “as the United States and India jointly address challenges in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” the State Department said.

Defence and political relations between the two countries have dev­­­eloped rapidly in the last 10 years but they still have differences on bilateral trade. President Don­a­ld Trump’s plan to correct imbalances in trade with other nations has further exacerbated business ties.

Both countries, however, have strong reasons for staying engaged.

India wants to counter China’s expanding economic and military weight in the region with Washington’s support. The United States also desires to check China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region and finds India an eager partner.

The “2+2” talks were set for this month in Washington but had to be delayed because Secretary Pompeo had to visit North Korea. The talks were originally scheduled in April but were postponed after President Trump sacked former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Mr. Pompeo faced a lengthy confirmation hearing.

The US media, while reporting the New Delhi talks, noted that Washington has emerged as a top arms supplier to New Delhi, which seeks to modernise its Soviet-era military. The United States has sold more than $15 billion of weapons to India over the past decade, the reports added.

Recently, the United States offered India the armed version of drones that were originally authorised for sale as unarmed and for surveillance purposes. This marks the first time that Washington has offered a large armed drone to a country outside the Nato alliance.

India and the US also held the seventh meeting of their Defence Te­­ch­nology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) in New Delhi earlier this week.

The Indian media reported on Wednesday that at this meeting, the two allies decided to push ahead with their discussions on joint development and production of futuristic military systems.

The proposal will also be discussed at the first “2+2” dialogue.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2018