New Delhi: Defence and strategic cooperation between India and the US got a major boost yesterday as visiting US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior leaders and discussed new ways to take forward the ties.
Hagel, who arrived here on Thursday evening, met Modi yesterday afternoon and discussed the prime minister’s “forward-looking agenda” for the summit talks with US President Barack Obama in Washington as well as new ways to deepen strategic ties.
Hagel’s maiden trip to India as defence secretary comes less than a week after that of Secretary of State John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzeker.
The visits by the three senior US officials in quick succession lays the ground for the summit meeting in Washington between Modi and Obama on September 29-30.
The US visit by Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party stormed to power in the April-May elections, is being looked forward to by the US, especially since Washington had denied him a visa following the 2002 Gujarat riots when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat.
Kerry had come to New Delhi last week to co-chair the India-US Strategic Dialogue, though it was India’s turn to go to Washington for the annual dialogue.
Hagel met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj yesterday morning, and Defence and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley later in the day.
Modi told Hagel he looked forward to his visit to the US in September which would provide “an opportunity to see how the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy can build a partnership for peace, stability and prosperity in the world”.
In their talks on defence cooperation, both Modi and Jaitley raised the issue of enhancing indigenous defence production, a point the prime minister stressed.
Modi indicated his desire to see further progress in defence relations, including in defence manufacturing in India, technology transfer in the area of defence, exercises and higher studies in the field of defence.
Both sides discussed Afghanistan and the situation in the Middle East. On Iraq, Hagel briefed Modi on the “announcements by President Obama on the steps that the US plans to take to deal with the situation,” an official statement said.
After initially refusing to get involved in Iraq, where Sunni jihadists have overrun large swathes of land, the US military has launched targeted airstrikes on forces of the Islamic State.
Modi raised the Afghanistan political situation where the dispute between the two presidential candidates on the veracity of the election has caused concern.
Kerry reached Kabul unannounced on Thursday in an attempt to try and resolve the dispute over the presidential elecitons. Hagel was accorded a ceremonial reception at South Block by the three services.
Ahead of his visit, the Indian cabinet had approved a proposal to raise foreign direct investment (FDI) in the defence sector to 49 percent from the present 26 percent.
During talks with Jaitley, the two sides decided to take steps for a new defence agreement to replace the 10-year defence framework agreement that expires next year and also agreed to take the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative forward.
Both sides discussed their bilateral defence ties and agreed to “further enhance bilateral defence cooperation, especially in technology and discussed ways for strengthening this partnership”.
Jaitley stressed on indigenisation of the Indian defence industries. Hagel also met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
While flying to India, Hagel told reporters enroute: “(The) point of my trip here is to take advantage of the opportunity to meet with a new Indian government.”
“I’m here to pursue different possibilities and options that have been initiated over the years. We have a number of things, specific projects that we will discuss. One is the renewal of the 10-year defence framework agreement,” he told reporters accompanying him on the visit.
The US defence secretary also described India as one of the most significant countries in the world and would help shape a “new world order” that is emerging in this century. “The relationship between the US and India certainly for our interests, for the US’ interests, and I think for India’s interests, as well as the Asia Pacific, but also global interests, is important.
“And where we can find common interests, where we can share areas that help promote our own countries’, our own economies’ stability, security, peace, trade, technology, then we need to take that initiative and we need to do that,” he said.