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India ‘lynchpin’ for US strategy in Asia: Panetta

Agence France-Presse
Pentagon chief Leon Panetta vows to expand defense ties between India and the United States

NEW DELHI, India – Pentagon chief Leon Panetta vowed Wednesday, June 6, to expand defense ties between India and the United States, saying New Delhi was a “lynchpin” in a new US military strategy focused on Asia.

At a think-tank in the Indian capital Panetta was expected to say, according to prepared comments, that military ties had dramatically improved over the past decade.

But he was due to say more work was needed to ensure the two countries could safeguard the “crossroads” of the global economy spanning the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific.

“For this relationship to truly provide security for this region and for the world, we will need to deepen our defence and security cooperation.

“This is why I have come to India,” Panetta was to tell an audience at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

Having overcome suspicions from the Cold War-era, “our two nations have finally and irreversibly started a new chapter of our history,” he said.

Panetta, who met with Indian leaders on Tuesday and Wednesday, said he believed the relationship “can and should become more strategic, more practical, and more collaborative.”

He said a new US strategy sought to “expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia.”

“Defense cooperation with India is a lynchpin in this strategy.”

Panetta called for more joint research and production efforts, expanding military exercises and for both countries to tackle legal dilemmas posed by space weapons and cyber warfare.

“We can do more to drive the creation of a rules-based order that protects our common interests in new areas like cyber security and space. We need to develop rules of the road in these domains to help confront dangerous activities by states and non-state actors alike,” he said.

Checking China

Security ties with India have steadily improved but US officials have yet to realize the goal of a game-changing partnership that could check China’s role and empower the two countries’ economies, analysts say.

India favors improving military ties with the United States but does not want to become a full-fledged US ally, preferring a degree of breathing space, analysts say.

Panetta’s visit has focused in part on the planned withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, with India concerned about a dangerous vacuum after the foreign troops exit.

The United States favoured a more active role for India in Afghanistan, Panetta was to say in his speech.

“I urged India’s leaders to continue with additional support to Afghanistan through trade and investment, reconstruction, and help for Afghanistan’s security forces,” he said.

A day after Al-Qaeda’s number two leader was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, Panetta acknowledged that both India and the United States faced difficulties with Islamabad.

“Pakistan is a complicated relationship for both of our countries, but one that we must work to improve,” he said.

Engaging Pakistan

He said he welcomed initial steps taken by India and Pakistan to normalize trade ties.

“India and the United States will need to continue to engage Pakistan, overcoming our respective — and often deep — differences with Pakistan to make all of South Asia peaceful and prosperous,” he said.

The US tilt towards Asia — including closer ties to New Delhi — is widely seen as a response to China’s growing military and economic might, particularly in the South China Sea.

But Panetta said both the United States and India wanted to see Beijing play a prominent role in the region.

“As the United States and India deepen our defence partnership with each other, both of us will also seek to strengthen our relations with China,” he said.

“We recognize that China has a critical role to play advancing security and prosperity in this region.”

He hailed growing arms sales with India but said both countries needed to remove obstacles that were holding back defence trade and the transfer of technology.

“To realize the full potential of defence trade relations, we need to cut through the bureaucratic red tape on both sides,” he said. – Agence France-Presse