Situation in Indo-Pacific, Afghan peace process figure in India-US talks

New Delhi, Mar 20 (PTI): The strategic situation in the Indo-Pacific and the Afghan peace process figured prominently in talks between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday.

Sources said the steady growth of bilateral cooperation was recognised by both sides and Jaishankar spoke about India’s current security challenges and its long-term strategic outlook.

Highlighting the commonalities and convergence, Jaishankar said that the Indo-US relationship was unique for the breadth and intensity of cooperation that covered so many domains, they added.

“Welcomed US @SecDef Lloyd Austin at MEA. A wide-ranging conversation on the global strategic situation. Look forward to working with him on enhancing our strategic partnership,” Jaishankar tweeted.

According to the sources, Austin, in the one-hour meeting with Jaishankar, said as the two largest democracies in the world, human rights and values are important.

Austin flew into India on Friday as part of his three-nation first overseas tour that signalled the Biden administration’s strong commitment to its relations with its close allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region. He visited Japan and South Korea before arriving here.

“Discussions focused on the strategic situation in the Indo-Pacific. US side briefed about recent visits in East Asia,” said a source. The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China’s increasing military muscle flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers.

The US has been favouring making Quad a security architecture to check China’s growing assertiveness.

The sources said Afghanistan was addressed in some detail and assessments were exchanged on the peace process and the ground situation, as also the concerns and interests of regional powers and neighbours.

They said Jaishankar appreciated the Biden Administration’s engagement with India on this issue.

Earlier in the day, Austin and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held “comprehensive” talks that saw both sides resolving to further consolidate their robust defence partnership through deeper military-to-military engagement, information sharing and logistics cooperation.

In his media statement, Austin said India is an “increasingly important partner amid today’s rapidly shifting international dynamics and I reaffirmed our commitment to a comprehensive and forward-looking defence partnership with India as a central pillar of our approach to the region.”

The US Defence Secretary said as the Indo-Pacific region faces challenges to a free and open regional order, cooperation among like-minded countries is imperative to securing the shared vision for the future.

“We discussed opportunities to elevate the US-India Major Defence Partnership…a priority of the Biden-Harris Administration through regional security cooperation, military-to-military interactions, and defence trade,” Austin said.

“In addition, we are continuing to advance new areas of collaboration, including information-sharing, logistics cooperation, artificial intelligence; and cooperation in new domains such as space and cyber,” he added.