WASHINGTON: India and the US have agreed to accelerate defence and national security ties as Defence Secretary James Mattis, at a meeting with Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman, asserted that the Trump Administration sees no contradiction between strategic autonomy and strategic partnership.
Sitharaman, the first woman defence minister of India, is currently on a five-day maiden trip to the US.
From here, she travels to California to visit the Defense Innovation Unit of the Department of Defense and the Indo-Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii.
"The United States and India, in Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi's work, have overcome hesitations of history, carrying forward the legacy of friendship and making clear there is no contradiction between strategic autonomy and strategic partnership," Mattis said Monday as he welcomed Sitharaman at the Pentagon for a delegation-level meeting between the two leaders.
Having arrived in Washington DC Sunday, she started her official visit by visiting the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department, where she signed on the condolence book of former US President George H W Bush.
From there, she drove to the Arlington National Cemetery where she laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a gesture which did not go unnoticed at the Pentagon.
"On behalf of our department and all of our service members, thank you for paying your nation's respect at Arlington National Cemetery this morning.
We're grateful," Mattis said, welcoming the defence minister at the Pentagon, where she was given a red carpet welcome.
Mattis said Sitharaman's presence at the wreath-laying made clear that the US-India military relations were not "defined by brittle or empty words" but by the human aspect of partnership steeped in recognition of the two nations' respective sacrifices and the cause of peace, friendship and freedom.
The two largest democracies of the world, despite diverse histories and cultures, have shared principles, values and respect for the rules-based international order.
"The US-India relationship is a natural partnership between the world's oldest and the world's largest democracy," he said.
While this is her first trip to Washington DC, the two leaders have met four times in about a year, reflecting on the growing defence relationship between India and the United States.
"We have made meaningful progress in advancing US-India defence cooperation, most notably with your nation hosting September's inaugural two-plus-two ministerial dialogue in New Delhi," he said.
The ministerial talks served as a tangible demonstration of "our shared vision for a safe, secure, prosperous and free Indo-Pacific, underpinned by respect for the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of all nations," Mattis said.
"Today, I reiterate US appreciation for India's leadership as a stabilising force in pursuit of that vision, promoting peace and security across the region and the globe," he said.
The defence secretary said the two-plus-two ministerial dialogue also made clear the commitment of India and the US to further bolster their defence partnership.
"Today, we build on that momentum as we work to implement our agreement from September, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA)," he added.
Describing the inaugural two-plus-two meeting in September as a landmark event, Sitharaman said it set the stage for strategic consultations between the two countries.
"The bilateral meetings during the two-plus-two dialogue in New Delhi" and other meetings, including the one in Singapore in October, were indeed positive and productive, she added.