PM Modi meets US defence secretary, calls bilateral ties ‘force for global good’
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed bilateral, regional and global issues on Friday, reflecting efforts by the two sides to bolster cooperation as the Biden administration moves to counter an increasingly aggressive China.
Austin flew into India on the final leg of a three-nation tour that has already taken him to Japan and North Korea, He is the first senior leader of the new US administration to make an in-person visit to the country. After meeting Modi, Austin also held talks with National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval.
He arrived in New Delhi hours after a meeting between the foreign ministers and NSAs of the US and China in Alaska got off to a bumpy start, with testy exchanges between the two sides in full view of the media. US secretary of state Antony Blinken alluded to China’s aggressive actions when he said a world in which “might makes right” would be “far more violent and unstable”.
“India and [the] US are committed to our strategic partnership that is a force for global good,” Modi tweeted after his meeting with Austin. He added that he had conveyed his best wishes to US President Joe Biden.
The discussions between Modi and Austin covered bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest, external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava tweeted. He described the India-US relationship as a “strategic partnership of global significance”.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that Modi outlined to Austin his vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries and emphasised the key role played by defence cooperation in bilateral ties. Austin reiterated the US administration’s continued commitment to strengthening defence ties and expressed a desire to enhance the strategic partnership for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, the people said.
In a tweet posted shortly after his arrival, Austin said, “The breadth of cooperation between our two nations reflects the significance of our major defense partnership, as we work together to address the most pressing challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region.”
Defence minister Rajnath Singh, who will hold talks with Austin on Saturday, welcomed his US counterpart in a tweet, “Your visit to India is definitely going to further deepen the cooperation and partnership between India and the United States. Looking forward to our meeting tomorrow.”
Austin was received at Palam airport by senior Indian military officials and American diplomats. He is also the first US leader to visit India after the first leaders’ summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad on March 12, when the four countries committed themselves to working for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The people cited above said measures to boost the India-US strategic partnership, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, the India-China standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the situation in Afghanistan and the sales of US weapons systems are expected to figure in the talks between the two sides on Saturday.
Among the defence deals expected to be discussed is India’s plan to acquire 30 armed drones at an estimated cost of more than $3 billion, the people said.
However, ahead of Austin’s visit, Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote a letter to the defence secretary and urged him to take up with Indian leaders the issue of India acquiring the S-400 missile defence system from Russia, as well as democracy and human rights issues.
The US has imposed sanctions on Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for purchasing the S-400 system. India inked a deal with Russia in 2018 to buy five S-400 air systems and deliveries are expected to begin this year.
Bilateral defence ties were boosted after the US-designated India a “major defence partner” in 2016, and the two sides have signed what are known as “foundational” defence and security agreements, including the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).