India, US ‘complete’ long-negotiated defence pact

India and the United States today held a high-level dialogue in Delhi between their Foreign and Defence Ministers, aimed at further scaling up bilateral defence and security relationships and boost strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region where China is attempting to expand its economic and military clout.

Indian 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 at the Hyderabad House, reports our New Delhi Correspondent.

During the talks, the two sides "completed" the long-negotiated Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement that will help India gain access to high-end military technology, geo-spatial maps and classified satellite data from the US.

"We are happy that we've completed the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement), which will open new avenues in the information sharing. We are eager to discuss further issues with US Defence Secretary," Rajnath said.

The agreement will give India access to classified data as well as critical information about deployment of troops and weapons by China.

Pompeo said, "Today is a great opportunity for two great democracies to grow closer. We've a lot to discuss today to cooperate amid pandemic, to confront Chinese Communist party's threats to security and freedom, to promote peace and stability in the region."

For his part, Esper said, "We have strengthened our defence and security partnership especially over past year during which we advanced our regional security and information sharing. Our cooperation meets the challenges of the day and principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific."

The in-person talks taking place in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic assumes significance because of India's five-month-old tense faceoff 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 manoeuvres in the South China Sea.

Ahead of the dialogue today, both Rajnath and Jaishankar held talks with Esper and Pompeo separately yesterday.

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" seeking to elevate defence trade and technology sharing to a level of Washington's closest partners.

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