A week after US President Joe Biden was sworn in, two top US officials, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, spoke to their Indian counterparts, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and NSA Ajit Doval, in separate phone conversations Wednesday.
On the Doval-Sullivan call, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement where they flagged issues of “scourge of terrorism”, “maritime security”, “cyber security” and “peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond”. All these issues have an oblique reference to China and Pakistan — from India’s perspective.
The US Defence Secretary’s call to Singh is significant since Austin has taken charge just two days ago, and has spoken to key allies of the US so far — Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, NATO and the UK. India is the first country outside the allies that he spoke to in a phone conversation.
The call was initiated by Austin, and the conversation lasted for about 15-20 minutes, sources said.
Singh tweeted, “We exchanged views on regional and global issues of mutual interest to strengthen our strategic partnership.”
A Defence Ministry statement said Singh had previously congratulated Austin on his appointment. “During the telephonic talk, they reaffirmed their commitment to work together to strengthen the multifaceted India-US defence cooperation and the strategic partnership” and “discussed bilateral, regional and global issues,” the statement said.
Sources said that among the larger issues discussed, there was a focus on Indo-Pacific and China was part of the discussions.
Pentagon’s spokesperson said that “Austin emphasized the Department’s commitment to the U.S.-India Major Defense 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 U.S.-India defense relationship, and he pledged to work collaboratively with the Defence Minister to sustain progress,” the spokesperson said.
On the conversation between the NSAs, Ministry of External Affairs said Doval “underscored that as leading democracies, with an abiding faith in an open and inclusive world order, India and the U.S. 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”.
According to MEA, “NSA Sullivan stated that the US was looking forward to working together on the bilateral agenda and the common global challenges.”
It said the two NSAs “agreed to work closely to further advance India-U.S. 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 in a statement.
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