Rajnath, Austin meet focuses on free and open Indo-Pacific region

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and US Defence Secretary Lloyd James Austin bilateral meeting on Saturday focused enhancing military cooperation between both the countries and ensuring free and open Indo-Pacific region. The meeting centred around defence cooperation, expanding military-to-military engagement across services, information sharing, cooperation in emerging sectors of defence, and mutual logistics support. After the meeting, Singh said, "We had a comprehensive and fruitful discussion with Secretary Austin and his delegation. We are keen to work together to realise the full potential of the India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership." The US Defence Secretary is on a three-day visit to India starting Friday. He thereafter met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Indian Defence Minister said that they reviewed the wide gamut of bilateral and multilateral exercises and agreed to pursue enhanced cooperation with the US Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command and Africa Command. "Acknowledging that we have in place the foundational agreements, LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA, we discussed steps to be taken to realise their full potential for mutual benefit," he said. The minister pointed out that the recent Leaders' Summit of India, the US, Japan and Australia under the Quad framework emphasised on the resolve to maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region." "We discussed the need for enhanced capacity building to address some of the non-traditional challenges such as oil spills and environmental disasters, drug trafficking, illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing and others," Singh said. India is committed to further consolidate robust defence partnership with the US, the minister said. After the meeting, Austin said that he had a productive discussion on a number of security issues which are important to both the countries. "And at the top of my agenda, I wanted to convey the Biden-Harris administration's message of our strong commitment to our allies and partners," he said. India, in particular, is an increasingly important partner amid today's rapidly shifting international dynamics, he said. "I reaffirmed our commitment to a comprehensive and forward-looking defense partnership with India as a central pillar of our approach to the region. As the world faces a global pandemic and growing challenges to an open and stable international system, the US-India relationship is a stronghold of a free and open Indo-Pacific region," US Defence Secretary said. He said that Prime Minister Narendra has stated that India stands for "freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, and adherence to international law." "This is a resounding affirmation of our shared vision for regional security in the Indo-Pacific," he said. "Our work today is grounded in our shared values and converging strategic interests. We discussed opportunities to elevate the U.S.-India Major Defense Partnership… a priority of the Biden-Harris Administration… through regional security cooperation, military-to-military interactions, and defense trade," Austin said. He also pointed that both the countries are continuing to advance new areas of collaboration, including: information-sharing, logistics cooperation, artificial intelligence; and cooperation in new domains such as space and cyber. We also discussed engagement with like-minded partners through multilateral groupings such as the Quad and ASEAN. As the Indo-Pacific region faces acute transnational challenges, such as climate change, and challenges to a free and open regional order, cooperation among like-minded countries is imperative to securing our shared vision for the future. "Despite today's challenging security environment, the partnership between the United States and India… the world's two largest democracies… remains resilient and strong," he said.

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