Ashton Carter to visit India next week

Washington: Reflecting a new bonhomie of Indo-US defence ties, the Pentagon today announced that outgoing Defence Secretary Ashton Carter would be visiting India next week on his final around the world trip.

Slated to be in India on December 8, Carter would travel to Japan, Bahrain, Israel, Italy and Great Britain before returning to the US on December 16. This is for the first time that an outgoing American Defence Secretary has included India in his itinerary for the final overseas trip.

“He (Carter) will look to build on the strategic handshake between the two nations and to continue the momentum in the relationship over the past decade, including expanded defence cooperation during his time as Secretary,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Carter among others would meet Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. Ahead of his visit, informed sources said India has made maritime security a significant priority and in discussion with the US for sale of Predator drones from General Atomics.

The outgoing Obama administration is trying to concretize steps taken with India in the defence domain as they transition the efforts to the Trump administration, sources noted, adding that on Carter’s agenda include M777 and Predator Guardian for the Indian Navy.

Early this year, India was able to join the MTCR with support from the US. Subsequently, India was also designated a “a major defence partner” when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US and met President Barack Obama at the Oval Office this Summer.

The first opportunity for US Government to showcase this would be in the maritime domain surveillance area with the export of Predator Guardian, informed sources pointed out, adding that Obama and Carter are keen to establish a concrete legacy with India. Vivek Lall, chief executive, US and International Strategic Development at General Atomics, are among the US leaders that have been advocating greater convergence between the US and India.

It is under his leadership that, India had acquired Boeing P8I aircraft in 2009 which would complement the Guardian aircraft for maritime security. Noting that Obama and Modi have repeatedly stressed that cooperation in the Indian Ocean is key to both countries national security interests, it is anticipated that both sides will discuss the Avenger drones for the Indian Air Force.

India requires more than 100 such drones, sources said. The combined value of Guardian and Avengers could be almost equivalent to the MMRCA requirement in value. Most militaries around the world are focusing their budgets and efforts to acquire unmanned platforms in the future. Modi spoke to President-elect Donald Trump on November 9 to congratulate and build on the strong Indo-US relations. Both leaders are believed to be keen to take the strategic partnership to a new heights.

India hopes that Trump will pursue a strategy in South Asia making India truly a priority and an anchor in the region.

Sources say that Trump has struck a personal chord with Modi and several prominent leaders interested in greater bilateral cooperation between US and India.

In the final trip, Japan would be the first overseas stop of the Defense Secretary where he would arrive on December 6. The next day he will meet Minister of Defense Tomomi Inada to underscore the long-term strength of the US-Japan alliance, and build upon the unprecedented progress in US-Japan security cooperation, the Pentagon said.

On December 10, Carter will deliver the opening speech at the annual International Institute for Strategic Studies Manama Dialogue in Bahrain. While in Bahrain, he will also visit sailors aboard USS Monterey, and thank them and their families for their service over the holidays.

Thereafter, Carter will be in Israel to meet with Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman and attend a formal ceremony to welcome the arrival of the first Israeli F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

“The arrival of the aircraft highlights the close defence cooperation between the US and Israel,” the Pentagon said. From Israel, Carter will visit US troops stationed in Italy from December 13-14 to thank them for their service in support of US and coalition operations worldwide, including deterring Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and securing NATO’s southern flank, the statement said.

London would be the final stop of Carter where he and his British counterpart Michael Fallon will cohost a ministerial of the leading nations in the counter-ISIL coalition on December 15. Discussions at the ministerial will focus on the current status of the campaign, the capabilities needed to secure and stabilise Mosul and Raqqah, and the future of the coalition in addressing the external metastases of ISIL, the Pentagon said.

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