Rajnath Singh meets and greets Lloyd Austin Photograph:( WION )
India is the third destination of Lloyd Austin's three-nation first overseas tour, and the visit is seen as a reflection of the Joe Biden administration's strong commitment to its relations with its close allies and partners in the region.
Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his American counterpart Lloyd Austin on Saturday held wide-ranging talks focussing on further expansion of bilateral strategic ties, evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region and challenges of terrorism.
"I am happy to inform that I had a comprehensive and fruitful discussion with Secretary Austin and his delegation. We are keen to work together to realise the full potential of the India-US comprehensive global strategic partnership," India's Rajnath Singh said in his statement to the media.
He added the talks focussed on military-to-military engagement, information sharing and logistics support among others issues.
Referring to Indo-US foundational agreements on defence ties, he said both sides discussed steps to be taken to realise the full potential of pacts such as LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement), COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) for mutual benefit.
Singh also said the recent summit of leaders of India, the US, Japan and Australia under the Quad framework emphasised the resolve to maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.
In his comments, US Secretary of Defence Austin reaffirmed the commitment by the US to a comprehensive and forward-looking defence partnership with India as a "central pillar" of its approach to the region.
He also described the India-US relationship as a "stronghold" of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
"Singh and I had a very productive discussion...I wanted to convey the Biden-Harris administration's message about our strong commitment to our allies and partners," he said.
"The world's two largest democracies remain resilient and strong, and we will seek every opportunity to build upon this major partnership.We will continue to deepen our cooperation."
Austin called New Delhi an increasingly important partner in the rapidly shifting international dynamics, adding the India-US relationship was a stronghold of the free and open Indo-Pacific region.
“PM Narendra Modi stated India stands for freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce in adherence to international law. This reaffirms our shared vision for regional security,” he said.
India is the third destination of Austin's three-nation first overseas tour, and the visit is seen as a reflection of the Joe Biden administration's strong commitment to its relations with its close allies and partners in the region.
On Saturday morning, Austin visited the National War Memorial and paid tributes to India's fallen heroes. Before the talks, he was given a guard of honour at the Vigyan Bhavan complex.
The US defence secretary called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and held talks with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval hours after his arrival in Delhi on Friday.
In his meeting with Modi, he conveyed the Biden administration's strong desire to further deepen strategic ties with India to address the pressing challenges facing the Indo-Pacific.
Almost all key issues of mutual concerns, including China's aggressive behaviour in the region, are learnt to have figured in the deliberations between Austin and Doval.
"Thrilled to be here in India. 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," Austin tweeted on Friday.
People familiar with the US official's visit said earlier that India's plan to procure around 30 multi-mission armed Predator drones from the US for the three services at an estimated cost of over USD 3 billion is expected to figure in Austin-Singh talks.
The US designated India a "Major Defence Partner" in June 2016.
The two countries have also inked key defence and security pacts over the past few years, including the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use of each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provides for deeper cooperation.
The two sides have also signed COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high end technology from the US to India.
In October last year, India and the US sealed the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement to further boost bilateral defence ties. The pact provides for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries.
(with inputs from agencies)