US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper held the 3rd US-India Ministerial Dialogue with their counterparts Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Delhi.Though the scheduled Meeting was supposedly postponed on account of Covid-19, for the US to go ahead with this Dialogue just a week before the US Presidential election is surprising.

Strategic experts believe, the decisions taken at the Dialogue will not meet the fate of the Iran Nuclear deal. There is bipartisan support for closer relations with India, it won’t change irrespective of who comes in as the next President.

The 2+2 Dialogue was more about messaging. President Donald Trump is under fire for mishandling the Covid-19 menace which has already caused over 2, 30000 deaths in the US. The economy is in deep recession; highest numbers of Americans have registered for unemployed doles.

The running trade war between the US and China isn’t hurting China alone. Professor Abhijit Banerjee of MIT felt it was unsustainable as it was hurting the American economy too.

Besides China, both Russia and Iran are being accused of interfering in the US election. An anti China wave is sweeping across the US today.Trump & Pompeo have been accusing China of aggression and expansionism and urging the ASEAN, South East Asian countries and India, Japan & Australia to join hands to counter China.

Recent QUAD Foreign Ministers meeting in Tokyo and forthcoming Malabar Exercises with Australia also joining is an unmistakable endeavour in that direction. Given the asymmetry of economic and military power, the US is clearly the Driving Engine for both the Indo-Pacific and the QUAD; it is trying to leverage them to checkmate China. Her South China Sea neighbours, ASEAN, JAPAN & Australia, though concerned about China’s aggressiveness, are unwilling to adopt a strident anti-China stance as she is their largest trading partner.

The decision of the UAE and Bahrain to normalize relations with Israel is being hailed as the success of Trump’s foreign policy. US and India relations have grown further notwithstanding their failure of in signing a trade agreement and non-resolution of issues related to tariffs, IPRs, GSP, market access, totalisation,H1B & L1 visas, and differences with regards to relations with Russia, Iran and developments in Afghanistan & Pakistan.

With the signing of BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) which will facilitate sharing of high-end military technology, logistics, encrypted information and geospatial maps, satellite precision images etc between the US and Indian militaries, India has signed all the Basic Foundation Communication agreements which the UPA Govt was hesitant to do.

The Modi government has taken the plunge and come close to the US militarily. India-US had signed LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) in 2016 which envisaged use of each other’s bases for repairs and replenishment of supplies and COMCASA (Communications & Compatibility Security Agreement) in 2018 which opened doors for India to purchase high end defence technologies from the US and provided interoperability between two militaries.

The US decision in 2016 to accord India the status of a major Defence Partner and STA1 (2018) put her on par with America’s closest allies.

Obviously, the signing of BECA is likely be added to the list of Trump’s foreign policy triumphs by his campaign managers and used for wooing the votes of Indian Americans; Trump has already been displaying his photographs with Modi at his rallies in the states with sizeable population of Indian Americans.

Ironically, his unguarded and insensitive comment made during the last Presidential debate, while discussing climate chang- India is filthy might cost him a few thousand Indian American votes.

American defence exports to India have touched US$ 20 billion.Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has reportedly urged his counterpart to encourage Joint research and joint Defence production by American firms in India to produce for India & for third countries.

While the stalemate with China in East Ladakh still continues, in spite of 7 rounds of meetings of the Core Commanders and the agreement reached between the Indian EAM and the Chinese Foreign Ministers on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Russia last month, Pompeo’s sharp, pointed and unambiguous criticism of China is music to Indian ears.

Expectedly, it has rattled China that has accused the US of “sowing discord between China and regional countries as well as undermining the regional peace and stability”.

Pompeo said:,” Our leaders and citizens see with increasing clarity that Chinese Communist Party is no friend to democracy, rule of law, transparency... I'm glad to say India & US are taking all steps to strengthen cooperation against all threats & not just those posed by CC.”.

His declaration that,” US will stand with India in its efforts to defend its sovereignty and its liberty" and reference to his visit to the war memorial to pay homage to Indian soldiers who lost lives in Galwan valley were obviously directed at China.

He underlined,” U.S values India as a multi-lateral partner, whether it's through the quad, making Afghan peace negotiation successful or working together during India's upcoming term on UN security council, we continue to support India's permanent membership of UNSC.”

Pompeo flattered India even more, ”We(S.Jaishankar & I)agree that the US-India comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership is critical to the security and prosperity of both our countries, the Indo-Pacific region and the world,”

The US Secretary of Defence, Mark Esper was equally positive.“The India-US partnership is more important than ever to ensure security, stability & prosperity of the region and the world……We've strengthened our defence & security partnership especially over past year during which we advanced our regional security & information sharing. Our cooperation meets the challenges of the day & principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

In a recent conversation with Frederick Kempe, President of Atlantic Council, Esper was quoted to have said, “India will well be the most consequential partner for us, I think, in the Indo-Pacific for sure, in this century."

Indian EAM Dr Jaishankar addressed the US-India relations in a much broader perspective.”At a time when it is particularly important to uphold a rules-based international order, the ability of India and the US to work closely in defence and foreign policy has a larger resonance. Together, we can make a real difference when it comes to regional and global challenges, whether it is in respecting territorial integrity, promoting maritime domain awareness, countering terrorism or ensuring prosperity,"

The US won’t put boots on the ground or fight on our side but the very notion of the US standing with India for the defence of her sovereignty should deter China from precipitating fresh crises on the LAC. It feels like revisiting President Kennedy’s strong support to India in the wake of the Chinese aggression in1962.

India hasn’t become America’s Strategic ally like the NATO though for military cooperation and intelligence sharing, she is quite close. Being a strategic partner suits India better; she retains her traditional strategic autonomy. Today, India and the US are closer to each other than ever before.

Ambassador Surendra Kumar is retired from the Indian Foreign Service.