To bolster bilateral defence ties and step up cooperation on Afghanistan, US defence secretary Leon Panetta arrived here Tuesday on a two-day visit.
What adds significance to Panetta visit is the United States’ eagerness to conclude two major military deals, and his own recent overtures about China’s growing military assertiveness.
The US defence secretary is also keen on pushing defence deals that are still pending, sources said. On Tuesday, Panetta began his visit by meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon.
The US and India have stepped up their engagement on Afghanistan as Western forces get ready to keep their presence in that country minimal. India maintains that whatever happens in Afghanistan, in its extended neighbourhood, has direct implications on its national security. According to officials, India will urge the US to exert more pressure on Pakistan to dismantle terrorist havens on its border that is holding up the fight against terrorism in the region.
New Delhi would also like to get the US assessment of the increasing Chinese military assertiveness in the region. Panetta has been quite vocal about the topic. On Wednesday, he is slated to meet defence minister AK Antony.
He will also push India to speed up the military purchases. India is close to finalising the $647 million contract for 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers from the US under the Foreign Military Sales programme.
A $1.4-billion contract to acquire 22 missile-armed helicopters and AH-64D Apache Longbow gunships are also in the final stages.