NEW DELHI —
U.S. and Indian government ministers are touting a significantly expanded strategic and economic relationship, which Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday “couldn’t come at a more important moment.”
The 2nd U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, held for the first time in India, is the latest in a series of significant meetings and agreements that has moved traditionally non-aligned New Delhi into a significantly closer relationship with Washington amid rising concerns in both capitals about a more assertive China.
The “intensity of the bilateral relationship is unprecedented,” said India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, as she initiated the dialogue.
India has kicked aside in recent years numerous trade barriers and New Delhi has set a goal with Washington to expand bilateral trade five-fold to $500 billion annually.
To reach that goal, the participants in the current dialogue need to “think bigger, act bolder,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
“We must make it easier for Indian and American companies to buy from each other, to invest in each other, and to create with each other,” she added, while noting that private sector participation in the dialogue is essential to achieve significant results and to advise government officials on “good policy-making.”
A simultaneous India-U.S. CEO Forum is being led by the bosses of two conglomerates: Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry and Honeywell chairman Dave Cote.
Scant information has been revealed about the security side of the discussions.
Kerry met Tuesday with India’s national security adviser, Ajit Doval, to “discuss regional security, counter-terrorism and the deepening strategic partnership,” according to State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner.
Joint military drills
The dialogue in New Delhi comes a day after the two countries, at the Pentagon, signed a watershed agreement to allow their military forces access to each other’s bases for repairs and to replenish supplies; however, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) stops short of allowing each nation to set up bases and access to military facilities in the respective countries will only occur when they agree to operate together.
U.S. and Indian forces are now also conducting significant annual joint drills, something else unimaginable a generation ago when the United States was a critical military backer of India’s archrival, Pakistan.
Next month’s joint drill, in the mountains of northern India, will include integration of both armies “working together down at the platoon level,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, who commands the U.S. Army's I Corps, told VOA.