NEW DELHI - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, on a visit to India, said both India and the United States will need to overcome deep differences with Pakistan to make South Asia peaceful. The visit underscores the greater U.S. focus on India to promote peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region. Defense Secretary Panetta said it is important for both the U.S. and India to continue to engage Pakistan in order to further the goal of peace in South Asia. Panetta was speaking Wednesday in New Delhi on the role India can play in the new U.S. defense strategy being developed for the 21st century.
“Pakistan is a complicated relationship, complicated for both of our countries, but it is one we must continue to work to improve,” said Panetta.
Panetta, on a two-day visit to India, met Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony on Wednesday. A day earlier, he met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
In his talks, the U.S. defense secretary stressed the greater role India can play in promoting regional stability. He wants India to go beyond its active involvement in economic reconstruction in Afghanistan and assist in training the Afghan army and police as international forces pull out in 2014.
Pakistan is suspicious of India playing a larger role in Afghanistan, but Panetta stressed that it is in the interest of both countries to stabilize Afghanistan.
He outlined a vision for a deeper strategic relationship with India as the U.S., in his words, “rebalances towards the Asia-Pacific region”.
“In particular we will expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia," Panetta said. "Defense cooperation, defense cooperation with India, is a linchpin in this strategy. India is one of the largest and most dynamic countries in the region and for that matter in the world, with one of the most capable militaries. India also shares with the United States a set of principles which helps maintain international security.”
Panetta said India and U.S. should deepen their defense partnership to enable India to play a larger strategic role in Asia. The two countries discussed increased defense trade and plans to conduct more joint military exercises.
He said the U.S. is committed to giving India’s armed forces world class capabilities. Military sales are growing: the U.S. has sold military equipment worth more than $8 billion to India over the last decade. He said both militaries have cooperated in countering piracy and terrorism and should combine forces to counter “more complex threats.”
Analysts said Panetta’s trip was meant to underline India’s role as a counterweight to a more powerful China. But the U.S. defense secretary stressed that the U.S. will seek to strengthen relations with China.
“The United States welcomes the rise of a strong and prosperous and successful China that plays a greater role in global affairs and respects and enforces the international norms and international rules that have governed this region for six decades,” Panetta said.
India was the third stop in Panetta’s tour of Asia. During his visit to Vietnam and Singapore, he signaled plans to bolster the U.S. presence in the Pacific Ocean as part of its strategic focus on Asia.