US secretary of defence Jim Mattis (left) is expected in New Delhi on September 25. His visit will be followed by that of secretary of state Rex Tillerson (right).(AFP file photo)
US secretary of defence Jim Mattis (left) is expected in New Delhi on September 25. His visit will be followed by that of secretary of state Rex Tillerson (right).(AFP file photo)

US defence secy James Mattis’ India visit likely from Sept 25

India’s role in Afghanistan, sharing of defence technology top Mattis’ agenda.
By Shishir Gupta | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON AUG 24, 2017 08:44 PM IST

US defence secretary James Mattis is expected to begin his two-day visit to India on September 25, with focus on Afghanistan, counter-terrorism and greater sharing of defence equipment and technology, government sources said on Thursday.

Mattis be followed by secretary of state Rex Tillerson, as two countries look to strengthen bilateral ties and step up engagement.

Tillerson, who wouldn’t accompany Mattis due to scheduling problems, will be in New Delhi for the first two-plus-two India-US dialogue involving external affairs and defence ministers of the two countries, sources said.

The proposal for the new format, which replaces the India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, is still to be received from the state department.

President Donald Trump had on August 21 called for a closer engagement with India on Afghanistan as he laid out US’ strategy for the war-ravaged country.

In his address to the nation from Fort Myer military base in Virginia, Trump asked New Delhi to contribute more towards economic and development assistance to Kabul. He singled out Pakistan-based terrorist groups for creating instability in Kabul and South Asia at large, something that India has been saying all along.

Trump’s address was followed by a phone conversation between Tillerson and his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj, diplomatic sources in New Delhi and Washington said.

US national security adviser HR McMaster and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval, too, discussed Afghanistan in a detailed phone conversation.

Though New Delhi is tight-lipped, sources said the two sides discussed ways in which India could contribute towards a stable Afghanistan without putting boots on the ground.

While Afghanistan is going to be central to Mattis’s meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, defence minister Arun Jaitley and Doval, the revival of the defence technology and trade initiative (DTTI) would also feature widely.

At present, the DTTI has joint working groups on aircraft carrier, hot engine aircraft technology and future vertical lift helicopters, with small unmanned aerial vehicles and roll-on-roll-off C-130J modules off the table.

India is looking at six V-22 tilt rotor Osprey aircraft for rapid deployment on its western and northern borders. The US also wants to sell F-16 and F-18 multi-role fighters to India through the government-to-government route.

Secretary (defence production) Ashok Kumar Gupta was likely to visit Pentagon early September to review the DTTI projects and also look at new India-specific technologies, sources said.

India is looking to speed up setting up of tri-services command in Andaman and Nicobar Islands as China rapidly militarises the South China Sea. New Delhi is also stepping up engagement with the US Pacific Command based in Hawaii.

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