US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are visiting India to hold strategic talks on military and trade deals. The BBC’s Vikas Pandey explains what’s at stake.
The meetings between the US officials and their counterparts Nirmala Sitharaman and Sushma Swaraj – described as the 2+2 dialogue – are taking place against a backdrop of recent strains between Washington and Delhi.
Meetings were first scheduled in April, but had to be rescheduled after US President Donald Trump fired his then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The dialogue was suspended once again in July for what India’s foreign ministry described as “unavoidable reasons”.
Much has changed between the two strategic allies in recent months.
New world order
The US has objected to new defence deals between India and Russia, and has also warned Delhi against importing crude oil from Iran. Both Moscow and Tehran are currently under US sanctions.
Mr Trump’s reported mocking of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s accent hasn’t gone down well with Indian diplomats. And the unpredictable nature of the Trump administration has also made India’s diplomats cautious.
Washington and Delhi mostly enjoyed warm relations during former US presidents George Bush and Barack Obama’s stints at the White House. But it’s too soon to say the same about the Trump administration.
India – which makes very few of its own weapons – is the world’s biggest defence buyer, and Russia supplies most of its military equipment and spare parts.
The US wants to change the dynamics. It has increased its arms exports to India more than five times in the past five years, taking its share in Delhi defence procurement to 15%.
In comparison, Russia’s share has fallen from 79% to 62% over the past five years, according to a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Washington has traditionally not objected to India buying defence equipment from Russia.
“The US has long believed that India needs to be strong militarily to counter China in the region – even if it comes at the cost of Delhi buying arms from Russia,” says Mr Rao.
The US has also said that it was against India buying crude oil from Iran. But Delhi may find it difficult to agree to the demand, something Ms Banerjee says India “cannot afford”.
India has pledged to invest more than $500m (£390m) to develop a port in Iran’s Chabahar city. The port will give India access to central Asian countries to boost trade.
Trade and security
The two countries also differ on their strategies in Afghanistan.
A top US general recently said that Washington was open to holding direct talks with the Taliban.
“But India has always been cautious about direct talks with the Taliban. Since it’s one of the biggest aid donors to Afghanistan, Delhi would want to have a say in how the peace process unfolds in the country. And it may not feel at ease if the US holds talks with some groups that Delhi believes are backed by Pakistan,” she said.
Trade is likely to be down the agenda, but some outstanding issues could be discussed.
The US increased tariffs on Indian steel and aluminium earlier in the year. India retaliated and raised import duties on a number of products imported from the US.