Rajnath-Austin meet focuses on enhancing defence ties

IANS-

The bilateral meeting between Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and US Defence Secretary Lloyd James Austin on Saturday focussed on defense cooperation, expanding military-to-military engagement across services, information sharing, cooperation in emerging sectors of defense, and mutual logistics support.

“We had a comprehensive and fruitful discussion with Secretary Austin and his delegation. We are keen to work together to realize the full potential of the India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership,” Singh said after the meeting.

Austin is on a three-day visit to India starting Friday. Upon arrival, he had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

Singh said that they reviewed the wide gamut of bilateral and multilateral exercises and agreed to pursue enhanced cooperation with the US Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command and Africa Command.

“Acknowledging that we have in place the foundational agreements, LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA, we discussed steps to be taken to realize their full potential for mutual benefit,” he said.

The minister pointed out that the recent Leaders’ Summit of India, the US, Japan and Australia under the Quad framework emphasized on the resolve to maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.

“We discussed the need for enhanced capacity building to address some of the non-traditional challenges such as oil spills and environmental disasters, drug trafficking, illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing and others,” Singh said.

India is committed to further consolidate robust defense partnership with the US, the minister said.

After the meeting, Austin first expressed condolences for the tragic accident that killed an Indian Air Force pilot earlier this week.

“Our hearts go out to his family and friends. His death reminds us of the risks our brave servicemen and women take each day to defend our democracies, our people, and our way of life,” Austin said.

The US Defence Secretary said that he had a productive discussion on a number of security issues that are important to both countries.

“And at the top of my agenda, I wanted to convey the Biden-Harris administration’s message of our strong commitment to our allies and partners,” he said.

India, in particular, is an increasingly important partner amid today’s rapidly shifting international dynamics, he said.

“I reaffirmed our commitment to a comprehensive and forward-looking defense partnership with India as a central pillar of our approach to the region. As the world faces a global pandemic and growing challenges to an open and stable international system, the US-India relationship is a stronghold of a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Austin said.

He added that Prime Minister Narendra has stated that India stands for “freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, and adherence to international law”.

“This is a resounding affirmation of our shared vision for regional security in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

“Our work today is grounded in our shared values and converging strategic interests. We discussed the opportunities to elevate the US-India Major Defence Partnership, which is a priority of the Biden-Harris administration, through regional security cooperation, military-to-military interactions, and defense trade,” Austin said.

He also pointed out that both countries are continuing to advance new areas of collaboration, including information sharing, logistics cooperation, Artificial Intelligence, and cooperation in new domains such as space and cyber.

“We also discussed engagement with like-minded partners through multilateral groupings such as the Quad and ASEAN. As the Indo-Pacific region faces acute transnational challenges, such as climate change, and challenges to a free and open regional order, cooperation among like-minded countries is imperative to secure our shared vision for the future.

“Despite today’s challenging security environment, the partnership between the US and India — the world’s two largest democracies — remains resilient and strong,” he said.

Later in the day during a presser at the US Embassy in the national capital, Austin said that they never thought India and China were at the threshold of a war due to the tensions in Ladakh.

“India and US will continue to work with like-minded countries and that is the way to counter any challenge,” he said.

Austin also said that he has discussed human rights issues with Indian Cabinet ministers.

India and the US share close defense cooperation with Washington authorizing over $20 billion in defense sales to India.