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US Defence Secretary's visit: Afghanistan, terror and defence deals on table

New Delhi, Sep 25 (IANS) Security situation in the South Asian region including Afghanistan and terrorism, and high ticket defence deals are set to be on table as US Defense Secretary James Mattis meets Indian leadership on his official visit to India that starts Tuesday.

This is the first US Cabinet-level visit to India under President Donald Trump’s administration. It would also be the first major interaction for Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman with a foreign counterpart after taking charge of the crucial portfolio.

According to the US embassy, Mattis will arrive in India on Monday evening, and will hold a series of meetings and attend several events between September 26 to 28.

Welcoming Mattis, Sitharaman and hoped India-US engagement will continue to grow.

“Welcoming Hon’ble Defence Secretary of the USA, Gen James Mattis to India. Hope our engagement will strengthen strategic and defence cooperation between our two great democracies,” she said in a tweet on Monday.

On Tuesday, Mattis will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sitharaman, apart from other leaders and officials.

He will also participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate, and will be accorded a Guard of Honour at the lawns of South Block, which homes the Defence Ministry.

According to officials of the US embassy, Mattis’ visit emphasises that the US views India as a valued and influential partner, with broad mutual interests extending well beyond South Asia.

“The Secretary during his visit will also express US appreciation for India’s important contributions toward Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, prosperity, and security,” an official said.

The situation in Afghanistan is likely to figure prominently in the talks, which come a month after the US unveiled its latest Afghanistan policy that held a warning that US will take action if Pakistan did not stop backing terrorists battling American forces. In a first, Trump also asked India “to help us more with Afghanistan”.

According to sources, in its ambit, the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan’s soil will also be discussed during Mattis’ visit. The situation in the South China sea, and China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean region is also likely to figure in the talks.A

Apart from the regional security scenario, US is likely to push for the sale of F-16 fighter jets to India, with Lockheed Martin tying up with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd to produce F-16 fighters in India, shifting its Fort Worth, Texas plant here.

Discussions are also likely on sale of Sea Guardian remotely-piloted vehicles, other pending deals as well as the US-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, and other bilateral agreements.


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