In a major goof-up, new US defence secretary Leon Panetta clubbed India and China, describing them as emerging "threats", but his office quickly retracted the remarks, saying Washington strongly values close ties with New Delhi.
Panetta put his foot in the mouth as he departed from prepared text during a speech at a shipyard in Connecticut, where he said, "we face the threats from rising powers -China, India, others - that we have to always be aware of and try to make sure that we always have sufficient force protection out there in the Pacific to make sure they know we're never going anywhere."
The defence secretary's comments came at an awkward moment just when President Barack Obama met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the two leaders agreed to boost ties not only bilaterally but at multilateral level also.
The Pentagon chief, who spoke to the workers at the shipyard which builds Nuclear attack submarines, described the array of threats to the US as coming from Iran, North Korea and cyber attacks.
But the former CIA chief, who recently publicly said that he was looking forward to visit India, strayed from the known US foreign policy stand by adding China and India to the list of countries posing security dangers that US would need to make clear to these powers.
However, Pentagon press secretary George Little was quick to clarify Panetta's remarks, saying the US strongly values a close relationship with India and sees it as a nation of increasing prominence and power.
"The Secretary strongly values a close military relationship with India, which he sees as a nation of increasing prominence and power. He doesn't view India as a threat," Little told PTI.
"The US and India work together on a regular basis to find ways of cooperating around common security interests. We're committed to pursuing even stronger cooperation in the future," Little said in a statement after Panetta's speech.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said it would be incorrect to draw a conclusion from Panetta's speech that the US sees India and China as a threat.
"Any suggestion that he (Panetta) was implying that he considered India and China military threats is false. The Secretary believes it is important to improve our military relationships with both countries," he said.
"He was referring instead to the challenges these rising powers face within themselves, challenges that we share with them as we try to forge better relationships going forward in a very turbulent, dynamic security environment," Kirby said.
In his speech, Panetta said in 10 years of war against terrorism, the US has weakened Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
"We weakened the Taliban. We've had the lowest violence levels in Afghanistan in five years. We're beginning to secure key areas of that country. We're developing an Afghan army, an Afghan police. We are moving in the right direction.
"A lot of work to be done, but hopefully by the end of 2014 we'll be able to again have an Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself," he said.
"In my old job at the CIA, working with the military, we were able to go after their leadership and they continue to go after their leadership. The reality is we have taken down key people, including Osama bin Laden and others, and the result of that is that this country is safer by virtue of what we've been able to do," Panetta said.
"We need to keep the pressure on. We need to make sure that we don't give up. These guys are still at it. Whether it's Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia..., we've got to keep the pressure up and make damn sure that they never again are able to attack this country," he added.