NEW DELHI: In the first high-level engagements between the Modi government and the Joe Biden administration, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh while National Security Adviser Ajit Doval talked to his American counterpart Jake Sullivan on Wednesday, broadly focusing on key regional and global challenges like combating terrorism and ensuring peace in the Indo-Pacific region.
The defence ministry said Singh received an “introductory telephone call” from the newly-appointed US Secretary of Defence Austin and that the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work together to strengthen the “multifaceted” defence cooperation and the strategic partnership between the two countries.
Official sources said China figured in the talks in the larger context of geo-political developments, and in relations to the strategic interests of India and the US in the Indo-Pacific region.
A read-out by the Pentagon said Secretary Austin emphasised the US Defence Department’s commitment to the US-India major defence partnership, observing that it is built upon shared values and a common interest in ensuring the Indo-Pacific region remains free and open.
“Secretary Austin noted the great strides made in the US-India defence relationship, and he pledged to work collaboratively with the Defence Minister to sustain progress,” it said.
In his talks with Sullivan, Doval underscored that India and US were uniquely positioned to work closely on regional and international issues including combating the scourge of terrorism.
“NSA Doval underscored that as leading democracies, with an abiding faith in an open and inclusive world order, India and the US were uniquely positioned to work closely on regional and international issues including combating the scourge of terrorism, maritime security, cyber security and peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.
It said Sullivan stated that the US was looking forward to working together on the bilateral agenda and the common global challenges.
“The two NSAs agreed to work closely to further advance India-US relations, which are built on shared values and common strategic and security interests.
They highlighted the need to work collectively to address challenges in the post-Covid era and further expand the Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership,” the MEA said.
On talks between Singh and Austin, the sources said the essence of the conversation was that both sides wanted to maintain the upward trajectory of the strategic and defence ties to advance their common agenda of peace, prosperity and growth.
In a tweet, Singh said the firm commitment to deepen India-US defence cooperation was reiterated during the talks.
“Spoke with my US counterpart, Secretary Def Austin and conveyed my warm wishes on his appointment,” Singh tweeted.
“We reiterated our firm commitment to deepen India-US defence cooperation.
We exchanged views on regional and global issues of mutual interest to strengthen our strategic partnership,” he said.
It is not immediately known whether the eastern Ladakh standoff between India and China was discussed in the talks.
Three days back, Austin spoke to his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi during which China’s growing activities in the East China Sea figured prominently.
The Indo-US defence ties have been on an upswing in the last few years and in June 2016, the US had designated India a “Major Defence Partner”.
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 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 Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) to further boost bilateral defence ties.
The pact provides for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries.