By Jim Garamone
U.S.-Indian defense cooperation has emerged “as the most significant dimension of our strategic partnership and as a key driver of our overall bilateral relationship,” Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at the conclusion of the two-plus-two talks Thursday.
Sitharaman and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj hosted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James N. Mattis for the talks between India and the United States.
The two nations signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement just before the news conference. Mattis called the agreement a significant step in U.S.-Indian defense cooperation. “The landmark agreement deepens our military-to-military cooperation and our ability to share the most advanced defense technology, making us both stronger,” he said.
“The two-plus-two meeting has helped shared efforts of both sides to promote a whole-of-government approach for our strategic priorities,” Swaraj said at a news conference at the conclusion of the talks.
‘To Cooperate in Every Possible Way’
Both nations have the highest respect for each other’s sovereignty, Mattis said. The result is they are committed to work together “for a safe, secure, prosperous and free Indo-Pacific, one that is underpinned by the rule of law,” he said.
“We appreciate India’s role as a stabilizing force on the region’s geographic frontlines,” Mattis added. “Your nation understands better than many: Peace and prosperity are only attainable when all respect the principles of territorial integrity, freedom of navigation and freedom from coercion — all of these are fundamental to the rules-based international order.”
During the meeting the leaders spoke to regional and global concerns like Afghanistan, North Korea and terrorism, Pompeo said. He stressed the shared values the U.S. and India possess.
“We have a responsibility to advance those shared values: rule of law; national sovereignty; good governance; the protection of fundamental freedoms, rights and liberties; free, fair and reciprocal trade relationships and peaceful resolutions of territorial and maritime disputes,” he said.
India already has a robust military training and exercise program with the United States, but the leaders agreed to ramp it up.
“To enhance our facilities in this area, we have decided to carry out for the first time a tri-services joint exercise with the United States off the eastern coast of India in 2019,” Sitharaman said. “We are also putting in place an enabling framework for further cooperation between our forces.”
India will continue to work with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, but will now also work with U.S. Central Command, Sitharaman said.
Following the meeting, the four leaders also met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.