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India, US deepen defense ties during Mattis visit

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, shakes hands with Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at the Indian Ministry of Defense prior to a meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday. (AFP)
NEW DELHI: India and the US have agreed to enhance maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean, deepen defense ties and undertake joint efforts against terrorism.
In a day-long visit on Tuesday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis met with his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi.
“It’s a historic opportunity to reshape the relationship, and the US recognizes India as a core of regional stability and security, and it reflects our desire for long-term strategic partnership in the 21st century,” Mattis said in a statement after the meeting.
Sitharaman said: “Defense cooperation between India and the US has grown significantly in recent years, and has emerged as a key pillar of our strategic partnership.”
Mattis, the Trump administration’s first Cabinet secretary to visit India, said “as global leaders, India and the United States resolve to work together to eradicate this scourge” of terrorism.
Mattis expressed appreciation over India’s role in “promoting democracy and security” in Afghanistan, but Sitharaman said: “There shall not be any Indian boots on the ground.”
An Indian Defense Ministry source told Arab News: “The US wants New Delhi to play a proactive role, but India isn’t willing to do that. This is a point of difference between the two countries.”
There was no announcement on the sale of Guardian unmanned drones to India. Washington had offered to sell them during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in June.
“The deal on the Guardian drones depends on the US Congress. The White House has just approved it,” Dhruva Jaishankar, a fellow in foreign policy studies at Brookings India, told Arab News.
There was no statement on the proposal to manufacture F-16 and F-18A fighter planes in India, as was anticipated.
“Secretary Mattis and I agreed that we need to expand on the progress already made by encouraging co-production and co-development efforts,” said Sitharaman. “I reiterated India’s deep interest in enhancing defense manufacturing in India.”
Chintamani Mohapatra, an academic at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: “Defense deals take time to mature. The important partnership between India and the US is important for global peace and stability, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Mattis said: “Maritime engagement is our top priority. Annual maritime security dialogue is an important mechanism to develop shared understanding of the challenges we face.”
Some experts say this is aimed at counterbalancing China’s growing maritime presence in the Indian Ocean.
“Beijing is using its maritime power to block freedom of navigation for other parties. That’s a major concern for both New Delhi and Washington,” said Jaishankar.