US, India seal military communications pact

India and the United States today signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) that, both countries said, will facilitate access to advanced defence systems and enable India to optimally utilise its existing US-origin platforms.

The pact was signed after the first round of their 2+2 bilateral talks between US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
The ministers also announced their readiness to begin negotiations on an Industrial Security Annex (ISA) that would support closer defence industry cooperation and collaboration.
Recognising their rapidly growing military-to-military ties, the two countries committed to the creation of a new, tri-services exercise and to further increase personnel exchanges between the two militaries and defence organisations. 
India and the United States also agreed to open a hotline between their foreign heads. “The momentum in our defence partnership has imbued a tremendous positive energy that has elevated India-U.S. relations to unprecedented heights,” Sitharaman said.
The ministers reviewed the recent growth of bilateral engagements in support of maritime security and maritime domain awareness and committed to expand cooperation. Toward that end, the ministers committed to start exchanges between the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and the Indian Navy, underscoring the importance of deepening their maritime cooperation in the western Indian Ocean.
Acknowledging the unique role of technology in the India-US defence partnership, the ministers reaffirmed their commitment to continue to encourage and prioritise co-production and co-development projects through the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) and to pursue other avenues of defense innovation cooperation. In this regard, they welcomed the conclusion of a memorandum of intent between the US Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and the Indian Defence Innovation Organisation – Innovation for Defence Excellence (DIO-iDEX).
Welcoming the expansion of bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation, the ministers announced their intent to increase information-sharing efforts on known or suspected terrorists and to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2396 on returning foreign terrorist fighters. They committed to enhance their ongoing cooperation in multilateral fora such as the UN and FATF. They reaffirmed their support for a UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that will advance and strengthen the framework for global cooperation and reinforce the message that no cause or grievance justifies terrorism. 
The ministers denounced any use of terrorist proxies in the region and called on Pakistan to ensure that the territory under its control is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. On the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attack, they called on Pakistan to bring to justice expeditiously the perpetrators of the Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri and other cross-border terrorist attacks. 
The ministers welcomed the launch of a bilateral dialogue on designation of terrorists in 2017, which is strengthening cooperation and action against terrorist groups, including Al-Qaida, ISIS, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-ul Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, D-Company, and their affiliates. The two sides further reaffirmed their commitment to ongoing and future cooperation to ensure a stable cyberspace environment and to prevent cyber-attacks.
The two countries have drawn closer in recent years, seeking ways to counter-balance China’s spreading influence across Asia, notably in Pakistan, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.
Before coming to India, Pompeo held talks in Islamabad with Pakistan’s new government and generals, aiming to smooth over tensions after President Donald Trump took a tough new line towards Pakistan over longstanding accusations it is not doing enough to root out Afghan Taliban fighters on its territory.
The presence of US troops in Afghanistan has heightened US sensitivity to the rivalry between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. Washington and New Delhi share concerns over Pakistan-based anti-Western and anti-Indian Islamist militant groups.
The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) had been stalled for years because of India’s concerns that it would open up its communications network to the US military.
Indo-Pacific and beyond
The ministers reviewed cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, noting that the common principles for the region articulated in the India-US Joint Statement of June 2017 have been further amplified by President Donald Trump at Danang, Vietnam on 10 November 2017 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Singapore at the Shangri-La Dialogue on 1 June 2018. Both sides committed to work together and in concert with other partners toward advancing a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, based on recognition of ASEAN centrality and on respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, rule of law, good governance, free and fair trade, and freedom of navigation and overflight. 
Noting the importance of infrastructure and connectivity for the Indo-Pacific region, both sides emphasised the need to work collectively with other partner countries to support transparent, responsible and sustainable debt financing practices in infrastructure development.
The ministers reaffirmed their shared commitment to a united, sovereign, democratic, inclusive, stable, prosperous, and peaceful Afghanistan. The two sides expressed support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. The United States acknowledged India’s longstanding and ongoing contributions of economic assistance to Afghanistan and also welcomed India’s enhanced role in Afghanistan’s development and stabilization.
India welcomed the recent US-North Korea summit. The two sides pledged to work together to counter North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programmes and to hold accountable those countries that have supported them.
The United States welcomed India’s accession to the Australia Group, the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Missile Technology Control Regime and reiterated its full support for India’s immediate accession to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Experts believe the signing of the COMCASA agreement could also reduce the chances of the United States imposing sanctions on India for looking to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.
The United States has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia, under which any country engaged with its defence and intelligence sectors could face secondary US sanctions.
However, a new defence bill proposes giving the US president authority to grant waivers when national security interests are at stake.
Joseph Felter, deputy assistant secretary of defence for South and Southeast Asia, said the issue of a potential S-400 purchase by India did not come up during talks. Later, Pompeo told reporters the United States was not seeking to punish India for its proposed purchase.
The United States is also pushing countries to halt oil imports from Iran after Trump withdrew from a 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers that was intended to stall Tehran’s developing nuclear capabilities.
India is Iran’s top oil buyer after China, and it is seeking a waiver from the United States.
Ahead of the talks in New Delhi, a senior US State Department official said the United States was engaged in “very detailed conversations” with India over Washington’s request to completely stop India’s oil imports from Iran.
“We’re asking all of our partners, not just India, to reduce to zero oil imports from Iran and so I’m confident that will be part of our conversation with India,” the official told reporters accompanying Pompeo.
People-to-people ties
The ministers recognised the importance and the potential for increasing bilateral trade, investment, innovation and job creation in both countries. Both sides committed to further expanding and balancing the trade and economic partnership consistent with their leaders’ 2017 joint statement, including by facilitating trade, improving market access, and addressing issues of interest to both sides. In this regard, both sides welcomed the ongoing exchanges between the ministry of commerce of India and the office of the United States trade representative and hoped for mutually acceptable outcomes.
Both sides looked forward to full implementation of the civil nuclear energy partnership and collaboration between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Westinghouse Electric Company for the establishment of six nuclear power plants in India.
Observing the strong ties of family, education and business and the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that unite their people, the ministers highlighted the unmatched people-to-people ties between their countries and recognised the benefits to both nations and the world from these ties, including the free flow of ideas and collaboration in health, space, oceans and other areas of science and technology.
The next 2+2 meeting is to be held in the United States in 2019.