India and the United States signed a key military communications pact on Thursday, opening the way for New Delhi to gain access to advanced U.S. defence systems such as armed surveillance drones.
The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which had been stalled for years because of India’s worry that it would open up it communications to the U.S. military, came after a meeting of Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman with U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo and U.S. secretary of defence.
The pact will facilitate access to advanced defence systems and enable India to optimally utilise its existing U.S.-origin platforms used by its defence forces. The agreement comes after the U.S. included India among the top tier countries entitled to license-free exports, re-exports and transfers under the License Exception Strategic Trae Authorization (STA-1) level this year.
The two countries also committed to explore other means to support further expansion in two-way trade in defence items and defence manufacturing supply chain linkages.
"The signing of the COMCASA today will enable India to access advanced technologies from the US and enhance India's defence preparedness,” said Sitharaman at a media briefing after the 2+2 Dialogue.
“One of the focus areas of the discussions was on expanding the scope and content of the U.S.' designation of India as its Major Defence Partner. We welcome the recent decision to elevate India to STA Tier 1 status for access to advanced technologies, especially in the defence field. I am confident that this and other measures to follow will enable our defence industry cooperation to make speedy progress for mutual benefit,” Sitharaman added.
At the dialogue, co-operation in the Indo-Pacific region was also reviewed. Both sides committed to work together and with partners for advancing a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region based on recognition of ASEAN centrality.
The two countries also agreed that a hotline would be set up between Pompeo and Swaraj’s office while another hotline would be set up between Mattis and Sitharaman’s office.
The ministers also recognised the importance and potential for increasing bilateral trade, investment, innovation and job creation.
“An important element of our strategic partnership is the rapidly growing trade and investment ties. Faster growth in these areas and deeper people-to-people connections are a force for our strategic partnership,” said Swaraj.
“The United States is emerging as a supplier of energy to India. We recognised and supported efforts made by the two sides to address trade-related issues on both sides and to make trade balanced and mutually beneficial.”
Neither Swaraj nor Sitharaman revealed whether India raised the issue of a waiver on the U.S. trade sanctions on Iran which come into force from November 4 so that the country can keep importing crude oil from the West Asia nation.
However, commenting on India’s concerns with crude oil imports from Iran, Pompeo said, “We have told the Indians consistently, as we have told every nation that on November 4th, the sanctions with respect to Iranian crude oil will be enforced, and that we will consider waivers where appropriate, but that it is our expectation that the purchases of Iranian crude oil will go to zero from every country or sanctions will be imposed.”
He added that the U.S. will keep working with India and recognised that many countries are in a place where they may take some time to unwind. “We’ll work with them, I am sure to find an outcome that makes sense,” said Pompeo.
Pompeo also said that U.S. will be happy to supply crude oil to India. “I think that’d be a great outcome. But our mission set is to make sure Iran doesn’t engage in malign behaviour with wealth that comes from countries around the world, thus the purpose of the sanctions.”
The next 2+2 Dialogue is scheduled to be held in the U.S. in 2019.