India and the United States on Tuesday began a high-level dialogue aimed at further ramping up their overall defence and security ties and boost strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific at a time China is attempting to expand its economic and military clout in the region.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held the third edition of the 2+2 talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper.
The in-person talks are taking place at a time when India is locked in a tense standoff with China in eastern Ladakh and the Trump administration's growing friction with Beijing over a host of issues including trade tariff and the Chinese military's offensive manoeuvres in the South China Sea.
The situation in eastern Ladakh and China's overall aggressive behaviour including in the Indo-Pacific region are likely to figure in the talks, according to sources.
In a reflection of growing bilateral defence ties, the two sides will seal a long-negotiated pact called BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) during the talks that will provide for sharing of high-end military technology, geo-spatial maps and classified satellite data.
The agreement will give India access to classified geo-spatial data as well as critical information having significant military applications.
Esper and Pompeo arrived in New Delhi on Monday on a two-day visit for the talks which are taking place just a week before the presidential election in the US.
Officials said Indo-US relations have bipartisan support in the US and the scheduling of the dialogue a few days ahead of the November 3 presidential polls will have no impact on the outcome of the talks.
Ahead of the 2+2 dialogue both Singh and Jaishankar held separate talks with their US counterparts on Monday.
The Indo-US defence ties have been on an upswing in the last few years.
In June 2016, the US had designated India a "Major Defence Partner" intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.
The two countries inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provide for deeper cooperation.
The two countries signed another pact called COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high end technology from the US to India.
The first edition of the 2+2 dialogue was held in Delhi in September 2018 after the mechanism was approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump.
The second edition of the dialogue took place in Washington in December last year.
The new framework of the ministerial dialogue was initiated in order to provide a forward-looking vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries.