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American Forces Press Service

Gates Seeks to Broaden India Partnership

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2010 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is slated to leave today for India to discuss the comprehensive, strategic partnership between the United States and India, and ways to expand it to provide broader regional security.

Gates is to visit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who President Barack Obama feted in late November with his administration’s first state dinner.

He also is to meet with Defense Minister A.K. Antony and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell announced.

Gates last visited India in February 2008, but has interacted regularly with his counterparts there as part of the broad pattern of U.S. engagement that includes not only security, but also a range of other issues, a senior defense official told reporters.

“This is part of that broad plan to make sure that we continue to build patterns of cooperation and understand where our shared interests will lead to greater cooperation in the defense and security realm,” he said.

Gates will explore with Indian leaders ways to expand the already-robust military-to-military relationship, deepen counterterrorism cooperation and bolster India’s role in promoting security in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the entire South Asia region, he said.

The secretary also is expected to recognize India as a major donor in Afghanistan, funding several major reconstruction projects under way there.

The talks undoubtedly will address tensions between India and Pakistan. However, defense officials said they’re gratified by both countries’ growing recognition that their biggest threat is radical extremism, not each other.

Military trade is likely to be discussed, but Morrell emphasized that Gates’ visit is intended to deepen relations with a growing global economic, political and security leader, not to sell weapons.

“The secretary is traveling to India because we have strong bilateral relations with that country and need to nurture and grow those,” he said. “That is a priority.”

Military exercises between the United States and India have increased in size and scope every year since 2002, the defense official noted.

The two armies conducted their largest joint military exercise yet in October, when 250 25th Infantry Division soldiers deployed to India with 17 Stryker combat vehicles to train with India’s 7th Mechanized Infantry Battalion. In addition, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III led the Defense Planning Group, which he co-chairs, during its visit to India in early November for top-level security talks.

“The United States and India have made great strides in our defense relationships as strategic partners over the past five years. Our relationship is strong and growing,” Lynn told reporters in New Delhi. “The world’s two largest democracies working together on defense issues sends a powerful message.”

Gates’ visit marks the most senior-level engagement between the United States and India since Obama hosted Singh at the White House just before Thanksgiving. During that visit, Obama and Singh signed a memo of understanding on “Advancing Global Security and Countering Terrorism,” and reaffirmed their commitment to work together to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and missile and nuclear weapons technology.

“In Asia, Indian leadership is expanding prosperity and the security across the region,” Obama said after meeting with Singh. “And the United States welcomes and encourages India's leadership role in helping to shape the rise of a stable, peaceful and prosperous Asia.”

Gates initially planned to travel to Australia en route to India, but postponed that visit to focus on military support for the disaster response mission in Haiti.

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