India and the US have finally decided to hold the ‘2+2 Ministerial’ meeting in April. This was decided during a phone-call between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday. The move will see both sides strengthening their strategic ties as they engage deeply in the Indo-Pacific region.

“The leaders agreed to strengthen security and economic cooperation as they look forward to the 2+2 ministerial dialogue between their defence and diplomatic officials in April,” said a statement issued by the White House on Friday.

The dialogue, the first such meeting between US Defence and State Department Secretaries and their Indian counterparts, is expected to be held on April 18 and 19 in Washington, sources told BusinessLine .

The ‘2+2 Ministerial’ will be an annual Cabinet-level meeting between both the governments that will be chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while from the US side it will be chaired by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defence Secretary Mattis, sources said.

Apart from strengthening defence ties between both countries by way of greater purchases of arms from America, Washington is now keen on India playing a larger role in the Indo-Pacific region.

Earlier this week, US Ambassador to India Kenneth I. Juster said at a conference that India should seize the strategic opportunity through trade and investment to become a major hub for US business in the region.

Juster also said that as a ‘Major Defence Partner’ of the US, India should focus on “its indigenous defence capabilities as well as enhance the inter-operability of our two forces”.

The US has been lobbying hard for a deal to sell 22 unarmed drones to India for the Navy’s surveillance capabilities in the strategic Indian Ocean region.

The US is also keenly watching how India is progressing in its plans to procure over 100 fighter planes as it bats for the latest version of F-16 made by Lockheed Martin.

‘Uniform approach’

“I think the 2+2 makes a great deal of sense. Both sides occasionally suffer from differences in strategic outlook between our defence and foreign policy teams. Having an annual ministerial provides a significant action forcing event to make sure there is greater uniformity in approaches. We have a lot on the table — carrying forward our defence technology and trade initiative programs; further progress on our aircraft carrier and jet engine working groups; possible defense deals; expanding the scale and scope of new “mini-groupings” like the US-India-Japan-Australia Quadrilateral, and more. India is considered the cornerstone of our emerging Indo-Pacific strategy, and the 2+2 will help American and Indian policymakers flesh out what this means, in practice,” said Richard M. Rossow, Senior Advisor and Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies, Center for Strategic and International Studies.

During the phone-call both leaders also discussed the situation in Maldives.