Updated: March 19, 2021 7:20:11 am
US Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin will arrive in India on a two-day visit Friday evening, marking the first visit of a cabinet-ranked official from the Joe Biden administration, which came to power in January.
Austin will meet his Indian counterpart Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and other senior dignitaries of the government. The visit comes on the heels of the first-ever summit of the leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or the Quad, on March 12 which was attended by Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morison.
On Wednesday, US Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Austin ahead of his India visit, raising the purchase of S-400 air defence missile systems from Russia.
“If India chooses to go forward with its purchase of the S-400, that act will clearly constitute a significant, and therefore sanctionable, transaction with the Russian defence sector under Section 231 of CAATSA. It will also limit India’s ability to work with the US on development and procurement of sensitive military technology. I expect you to make all of these challenges clear in conversations with your Indian counterparts,” Menendez wrote.
He urged Austin to “raise democracy and human rights concerns in your discussions with the Indian government” and mentioned that “we must acknowledge that the partnership is strongest when based on shared democratic values and the Indian government has been trending away from those values”.
Austin’s visit to India will be part of his first international tour since becoming the Defence Secretary. The Defence Ministry had mentioned in a statement last week that “Austin’s visit to India as part of his first overseas travel emphasizes the strength of the India-US strategic partnership”.
It stated that “both sides are expected to discuss ways to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation and exchange views on regional security challenges and common interests in maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region”.
The visit comes at a time when India and China are yet to resolve the military standoff in eastern Ladakh that began in May 2020.
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