India is buying an advanced air defence system jointly manufactured by the US & Norway

NEW DELHI: An intensifying strategic embrace marked the first India-US "2 plus 2" dialogue with the inking of "COMCASA", a defence pact that breaks historical barriers, allowing India to access encrypted technologies, and a pointed call to Pakistan to desist from using terror proxies. 

The dialogue and agreements commit New Delhi and Washington to working together on the open seas, with critical emphasis on Indo-Pacific with its implied reference to China, sensitive technology and counter-terrorism even though trade and economic disputes remain unresolved.

In a special gesture, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman received their counterparts Mike Pompeo and James Mattis at the airport on Wednesday evening. The tenor of discussions on Thursday made it evident that there would be no combative negotiation on a laundry list of issues, said sources.

The reference to Pakistan and use of terror proxies closely reflects India's concerns and a growing impatience of the Trump administration with Islamabad backing anti-US Taliban in Afghanistan, even as it awaits the new government's actions.

Sources said the four leaders set a broad direction, describing the talks as "positive and constructive". With both sides willing to listen, convergence was the buzzword and after the dialogue, Pompeo and Mattis called on PM Narendra Modi, a meeting that went on for almost an hour.

The most important takeaway was the signing of the Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) which has been in the works for long. The pact will facilitate access to "advanced defence systems and enable India to optimally utilise its existing US-origin platforms", a joint statement said.

The "foundational" pact will help services of both countries to advance interoperability, as US becomes one of India's closest defence partners in the world. COMCASA comes into effect immediately, and is actually an enabling agreement, with terms that apply to all US-origin platforms that India has already bought or plans to buy, with distinct India-specific features.

In discussions on Iran sanctions, US made it clear that it expects sharp reductions of energy imports by India, but did not get into numbers. Swaraj insisted India was an energy-reliant economy. But it appears there may be a carve-out for Chabahar port, as was the case in previous sanctions legislation too. India has been developing the port as an access to Afghanistan free of Pakistan's influence.

At a press conference, Pompeo said US understood countries like India will "take time to unwind" and work with them even as he said India had been told that on November 4 sanctions with respect to Iranian crude oil will be enforced, and though waivers will be considered, the US expects purchases of Iranian crude oil to go to zero from every country.

While Indian officials said they did not raise CAATSA, and sanctions on Russia (a major Indian defence partner), the Indians were assured by Mattis that "legacy platforms" will be respected. In his remarks, Pompeo said, "With respect to S-400, no decision has been made. We are working to impose CAATSA Section 231 in a way that is appropriate and lawful and to exercise that waiver authority only where it makes sense."