US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper pushed for closer ties with India at a high-level ministerial meeting with their Indian counterparts, at a time when New Delhi is facing a prolonged border conflict with China.
“The United States will stand with the people of India as they confront threats to their sovereignty and to their liberty,” Pompeo said after the US officials met with foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and defense minister Rajnath Singh at the 2+2 meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday.
The two sides discussed cooperation on pandemic response and challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. They signed a number of agreements including one that will give New Delhi access to US geo-spatial intelligence to help improve the accuracy of automated hardware systems, missiles and drones, according to an Indian defense ministry statement. Pompeo said the challenge of defeating “the pandemic that originated from Wuhan fed into the robust discussions about the Chinese Communist Party.”
The talks took place barely a week before the presidential election in the US and at a time when India, a member of the informal four-nation Quad grouping along with America, Japan and Australia, is in talks to de-escalate tensions with Beijing.
“The agreements signed today clearly show that India and the US are not shying away from closer security and intelligence cooperation,” said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a distinguished fellow at the New Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation. “It is also a clear message to China that it stands with India in the ongoing conflict. And that there will be more cooperation between nations like India and the US in the Indo-Pacific region.”
India’s Singh called on American defense companies to take advantage of the easing of foreign direct investments rules in the sector. The talks are expected to boost New Delhi’s defense purchases from the US, at $20 billion, and help address its security concerns in the Indian Ocean region as it seeks to compete with China.