New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday held a crucial meet with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin and discussed a variety of issues, including an expansion of bilateral strategic ties and increasing coordination in the Indo-Pacific region to counter the Chinese aggression.

Following the meeting, the two leaders issued a joint statement and said that India and the US are determined to realise the full potential of a comprehensive global strategic partnership.

Rajnath said that the two leaders also reviewed the bilateral and multilateral exercises and signed the LEMOA, COMCASA and the BECA agreements.

"Talks focussed on wide-ranging defence cooperation, expanding military to military engagement, info sharing and cooperation in emerging areas of defence and mutual logistics support," he said, as reported by news agency ANI.

Lloyd Austin, meanwhile, said that the relationship between India and the US is a stronghold of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, adding that New Delhi is an increasingly "important partner in rapidly shifting international dynamics".

"PM Modi stated India stands for freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce in adherence to international law. This reaffirms our shared vision for regional security," ANI quoted Austin as saying.

Austin had arrived in India on Friday evening and met National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval and PM Modi. India is the third destination of Austin's three-nation first overseas tour, and the visit is seen as a reflection of the Joe Biden administration's strong commitment to its relations with its close allies and partners in the region.

In his meeting with PM Modi, he conveyed the Biden administration's strong desire to further deepen strategic ties with India to address the pressing challenges facing the Indo-Pacific.

Almost all key issues of mutual concerns, including China's aggressive behaviour in the region, are learnt to have figured in the deliberations between Austin and Doval.

"Thrilled to be here in India. The breadth of cooperation between our two nations reflects the significance of our major defense partnership, as we work together to address the most pressing challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region," Austin tweeted on Friday.

People familiar with the US official's visit said earlier that India's plan to procure around 30 multi-mission armed Predator drones from the US for the three services at an estimated cost of over USD 3 billion is expected to figure in Austin-Singh talks.

The Indo-US defence ties have been on an upswing in the last few years.

In June 2016, the US had designated India a "Major Defence Partner".

The two countries have also inked key defence and security pacts over the past few years, including the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use of each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provides for deeper cooperation.

The two sides have also signed COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high end technology from the US to India.

In October last year, India and the US sealed the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement to further boost bilateral defence ties.

The pact provides for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries.

(With inputs from PTI, ANI)

Posted By: Aalok Sensharma