By Arul Louis
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that India's planned purchase of a Russian missile system or its relations with Iran will not be "the primary focus" of the "incredibly important" 2+2 Strategic Dialogue meeting he and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis will be having with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Seetharaman this week.
Calling India a "true strategic partner," he said on Tuesday the meeting in New Delhi is "really about things that are big and strategic and will go on for 20, 40, 50 years" and "those are the kinds of topics that Secretary Mattis and I are hoping to address".
"We have a true strategic partner who, frankly, is our only major defence partner... with whom we have a great relationship and who is very important to our success in our Indo-Pacific strategy -- enormous country with incredibly opportunity and capacity for wealth creation," he told reporters travelling with him to India according to a transcript provided by the State Department.
"We hope we can find opportunities to continue to expand the relationship not only diplomatic and military-to-military but a good set of business relationships as well," he added.
"There's half a dozen things on the agenda that we're really intent on making progress on," he said.
The 2+2 Strategic Dialogue was postponed twice at the request of the US -- first in April when the leadership of the State Department was transitioning from Rex Tillerson to Pompeo.
"I regret it was my fault the second time" in July, he said. "I had to travel to Pyongyang." Trump had suddenly set up a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trump had decided on the Strategic Dialogue when they met in Washington in 2017.
Trump administration's strategic vision embodies India and the US as "the two bookends of stability" in the Asia Pacific region -- and a counterbalance to China's rising power.
Symbolically, the US now calls the region Indo-Pacific and even renamed its Pacific military command.
At this week's meeting, Iran and the Russian missile defence system purchase "will certainly come up, but I don't think they will be the primary focus of what it is we are trying to accomplish here," Pompeo said.
"Those decisions are important to the relationship for sure, but I don't see us resolving those during this set of meetings of the Strategic Dialogue," he added.
India is planning to buy five advanced S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems from Russia in a deal estimated to cost about Rs 40,000 crore.
India reportedly also plans to continue buying oil from Iran despite threat of sanctions by Trump, who reneged on the agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany to stop Tehran's nuclear programme.
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com and can be followed on Twitter at @arulouis)