Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held one-to-one talks with India's National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. Both Delhi and Washington have been working very closely after the Chinese bid to alter the status quo in the disputed border or the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh last year. File photo: AP
American Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Delhi on Friday evening on a three-day visit to India as part of his maiden foreign tour, the first by a senior member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet.
Secretary Austin is currently holding one-to-one talks with India's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. "On the agenda are key regional security issues, including Afghanistan and China," sources in the Indian External Affairs Ministry told UNB.
His visit comes in the wake of Quad leaders — US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — recently holding their first-ever meet remotely.
According to the itinerary, the US Defense Secretary will also meet his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh and top military officials, and pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Modi and Foreign Minister S Jaishankar during his visit from March 19 to 21.
In a statement last week, the Pentagon said that in Delhi, Secretary Austin "will meet senior national security leaders", apart from the Indian Defense Minister, "to discuss the deepening US-India Major Defense Partnership".
On its part, the Indian Defense Ministry said that "both sides are expected to discuss ways to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation and exchange views on regional security challenges and common interests in maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific."
"Discussions regarding defence cooperation would also focus on how both countries could consolidate military-to-military cooperation and defence trade and industry cooperation,” the Defence Ministry statement said.
Ahead of the American Defence Secretary's visit, the Indian Ambassador to the US TS Sandhu told an Indian media outlet that "the tour is a reflection of the importance which the US accords to India and the importance of our bilateral relationship".
Both Delhi and Washington have been working very closely after the Chinese bid to alter the status quo in the disputed border or the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh last year. Relations between India and China worsened due to an ill-defined 3,440km-long border.
Both the countries are competing to build infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control. And the main trigger for last year's border clash was India's construction of a new road to a high-altitude air base. The clash had left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead.