India set to approve military communications deal with U.S.: Indian defence sources

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Indian and U.S. national flags flutter ahead of the visit of U.S. President George W. Bush in New Delhi February 28, 2006. REUTERS/B Mathur/File Photo

NEW DELHI – India is likely to give its approval to a landmark military communications agreement with the United States during high-level talks on Thursday, two Indian government defense sources said, laying the ground for Washington to sell sensitive defense equipment.

A first source said the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) was discussed in a meeting of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet committee on security on Wednesday evening, hours ahead of a meeting between the defense and foreign heads of India and the United States.

“It will be a positive development tomorrow,” the source said, declining to be named given the sensitivity of the matter. “It will definitely be reflected in the joint statement.”

A second government defense source said there was “high expectation” that the agreement would be signed on Thursday by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and India’s Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The agreement has also been customized to address Indian concerns, said the second source, who had been briefed on the matter. It would only apply to equipment that India buys from the United States and not open up the rest of the Indian military to U.S. communications networks, said the source.

A government spokesman did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Earlier this year, an Indian defense source told Reuters that New Delhi had shed its opposition to the agreement.

Indian and U.S. officials have been seeking a breakthrough in the talks over the COMCASA to expand defense cooperation between the world’s two largest democracies.

Under the agreement, the militaries of the two countries would be able to securely communicate with each other. The United States said the agreement is essential to extend defense ties between the countries.

India has historically been opposed to the agreement because it sees it as being too intrusive.

On Thursday, Mattis and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will hold talks with India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Sitharaman for the so-called two-plus-two discussions in New Delhi.

“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 between the two countries,” Pompeo told reporters on Tuesday, calling India the United States’ “only major defense partner”.

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