WASHINGTON, DC: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo puts on a facemask after a press conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. – AFP

NEW DELHI: India is closing in on an agreement with the United States that will give it access to satellite data for better accuracy of missiles and drones, government and industry officials said. The two sides are expected to announce the pact during the visit next week of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper for talks in New Delhi with Indian counterparts Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh.

US companies have sold India more than $21 billion of weapons since 2007 and Washington has been urging the Indian government to sign agreements allowing for sharing of sensitive information and encrypted communications for better use of the high-end military equipment.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet discussed the final draft of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement on Geospatial Cooperation on Wednesday, an Indian government source said. An accord would provide India with access to a range of topographical, nautical and aeronautical data, a defense industry source said.

It would also allow the United States to provide advanced navigational aids and avionics on US-supplied aircraft to India, the defense source said. “It is a foundational agreement, which the US has signed with many of its partners for greater interoperability,” the source said. India has traditionally been hesitant about getting drawn into a US-led security alliance. But tensions have risen dramatically this summer.

This week New Delhi agreed to invite Australia into next month’s naval exercises scheduled with the United States and Japan. “In tandem, the moves signal a new level of strategic convergence between the two democracies and a break from India’s ‘non-aligned’ past,” said Jeff Smith, a South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation, about the proposed pact. Already there is robust intelligence sharing between US and India, a second government official said.

Mike Pompeo will visit Indonesia next week, his first trip to the country since its leadership rejected a US proposal to host its spy planes. Pompeo will address an Islamic youth group conference on religion and civilization in Jakarta, Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi said yesterday, without providing further details of his itinerary.

Earlier, Pompeo told reporters in Washington that he hoped to meet with Retno and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, on the trip. The visit comes amid an escalating US-China rivalry that is being vigorously contested in Southeast Asia, especially in the South China Sea, which China claims as almost entirely its own territory. The claim is opposed by many regional states, including Indonesia. – Reuters