US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is to fly to India for talks focusing on Washington’s strategic shift toward Asia, as US officials eye New Delhi as a potentially pivotal partner.
Security ties to India have steadily improved in recent years, but US officials have yet to realize the goal of a game-changing alliance that could check China’s role and empower the two countries’ economies, analysts say.
During his two-day visit, Panetta is expected to discuss expanding defense ties, the NATO war effort in Afghanistan and China’s increasing economic and military power in the region, US officials said.
Panetta was set to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon along with other officials, before giving a policy speech today, officials said.
In US President Barack Obama’s new strategy blueprint unveiled in January, India is the only country mentioned by name as a vital partner.
US officials say the two countries share democratic traditions and similar concerns about China’s stance as well as the threat posed by Islamic extremists in South Asia.
“Strategically, we see India as a partner with a lot of common interests,” a senior defense official said on condition of anonymity.
Both countries, however, have been disappointed about a lack of progress on defense trade and other fronts.
Although US arms sales to New Delhi have dramatically expanded over the past decade, India in April rejected bids by US contractors for a US$12 billion fighter-jet contract, leaving only France’s Dassault and the Eurofighter consortium in the running.