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India-US ties: Jim Mattis to arrive, focus on ‘cementing progress’

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who arrives in New Delhi late Monday night, will leave for Kabul early on Wednesday.

Written by Sushant Singh | New Delhi |
September 25, 2017 1:38:04 am
jim mattis, us defence secretary, jim mattis on india, defence minister, nirmala sitharaman, india us ties, indian express Jim Mattis (Files)

The day-long visit by US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to New Delhi on Tuesday will focus on building ties with his Indian counterpart, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and on “cementing progress on India-US ties”. Mattis, the first member of the Trump administration to visit India, will also meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

Sources told The Indian Express that the only tangible outcome expected during the visit was the announcement of a bilateral maritime exercise between the Indian and US navies, which will be focused on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR). The proposal for such an exercise, which will include amphibious and helicopter operations, was discussed during the Maritime Strategic Dialogue between the two countries earlier this year.

“China is increasingly displacing India as the major player in HADR operations in the Indian Ocean, with all its new bases and facilities in the area. We want to partner with India as a partner of choice in this sphere and a new bilateral exercise is a step towards that,” a source said.

According to sources, while there will be discussions on the American offer for the F-16 fighter and Guardian Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), no announcement is expected during Mattis’s visit. “The proposal for F-16 is on the table. It is about where India is on the decision-making cycle at this point. We have offered some technology transfer, and what more can be done as per the requirement,” sources explained.

“As far as the Guardian UAV is concerned, India wants something that is not on offer. The two sides are still trying to reconcile the differences. We are not on the same sheet. Once the political direction is established, it will take at least two months before any progress can be announced,” a source said.

These discussions are linked to understanding the meaning of Major Defence Partner status bestowed on India during the Obama administration. While India expects greater access to US defence technology, the American side wants to build a strategic relationship, which is built on trust and is not limited to technology transfer. The Indian government’s aim to ‘Make in India’ is not aligned with President Donald Trump’s vision of ‘America First’, and “a momentum from the top leadership can push the bureaucracies of two countries faster” to find answers, sources said.

The two sides will also discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the help India can provide to support President Trump’s Afghan strategy. Indian help is likely to be restricted to more training slots for the Afghan military, as the defence equipment produced by India doesn’t fit in with the Afghan inventory.

Mattis, who arrives in New Delhi late Monday night, will leave for Kabul early on Wednesday.

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