In India, Austin Looks for Ways to Increase Cooperation

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New Delhi – Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a stop in New Delhi today (March 19). After the meeting Modi tweeted: “Pleasure to meet U.S. @SecDef Lloyd Austin today. Conveyed my best wishes to @POTUS @JoeBiden. India and US are committed to our strategic partnership that is a force for global good.”

The secretary also met with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Secretary Austin tweeted: “Great meeting with National Security Advisor Doval last night. The breadth of collaboration 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 commended the Indian leaders on their growing roles in the Indo-Pacific region and the growing engagement they have with like-minded partners across the region to promote shared goals.

The stop in India continues the Biden-Harris administration’s outreach to revitalize ties with partners and allies. India is a “major defense partner” — a unique designation. India is the third country Austin has visited on his first overseas trip. He met with Japanese officials March 15-16 and South Korean leaders March 17-18. On his way to India, Austin also spoke with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

Tomorrow (March 20), the secretary will meet with Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of External Affairs, J. Shankar.

The purpose of this stop in India is consistent with the themes of the overall trip, which are focused on building U.S. partnerships across the region and operationalizing the defense partnership the U.S. has with India, a senior defense official said.

The defense partnership has grown over the years. In 2008, there was no defense trade between the United States and India. Last year, India bought $20 billion in defense capabilities from the United States, the official said.

The partnership is based on a convergence of strategic interests that the U.S. has with India. “We’re increasingly looking at how we can build on the U.S.-India partnership with other like-minded partners,” the official said. “It’s how we can network and build our partnerships with India and with other partners, whether it’s in the Indian Ocean or in the Pacific Ocean.”

Multinational actions are key to this. “The secretary is looking to … to reinforce the partnership that we have with India and to encourage India’s leading role in security across the Indo-Pacific region,” the official said.

DOD also wants to advance interoperability with Indian forces and look for ways to work together. The convergence of ideas includes freedom of navigation, freedom of commerce and the peaceful resolution of disputes. These converging strategic interests are the basis for cooperation, the official said.

India is open to cooperating with the United States and others. India recently participated in the Malabar exercises with Japan, Australia and the U.S., and they have participated in the Rim of the Pacific exercises. “So whether it’s your information-sharing on maritime domain awareness in the Indian Ocean region or looking at maritime security or potentially even building partner-capacity across the Indo-Pacific region, that’s how you network, and that’s how you build,” the official said. “You are helping to pool resources and help to distribute … the burden — it helps to lighten the load for everybody to carry,” the official said. (JIM GARAMONE)

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