On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis began a four-day visit to South Asia in India. He met with his Indian counterpart, Nirmala Sitharaman, in New Delhi to discuss a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues. Mattis is the senior-most official from the Trump administration to date to visit India.
In New Delhi, Mattis touted the United States’ strategic partnership with India and New Delhi’s status as a “major defense partner” for Washington. “This is a historic opportunity for our two democracies, a time of strategic convergence,” Mattis said. “As India takes its rightful place at the global table, India will find the United States to be a steadfast friend and partner.”
He added that the “major defense partner” designation — a move made under the Obama administration in 2016 — acknowledged India’s role as a “pillar of regional stability and security,” echoing his words earlier this year at the Shangri-La Dialogue.
Echoing U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s strategy speech on Afghanistan in late-August, Mattis welcomed India’s contributions in Afghanistan. He welcomed further efforts by India “to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability and security.” Sitharaman clarified India’s position, noting that “India will expand development activities, but there will be no boots on the ground in Afghanistan.”
Along similar lines, building on Trump’s harsh criticism of Pakistan for allowing its territory to be used by terror groups, Mattis noted in New Delhi that there “can be no tolerance of terrorist safe havens.” Sitharaman noted that India and the United States “both recognize the importance of holding those who use terror as state policy to account and to dismantle infra that supports terrorism.” Neither she nor Mattis referred to Pakistan directly.
Finally, on Tuesday, Mattis and Sithraman discussed the regional security architecture in the Indo-Pacific region. “We appreciate India’s stabilizing leadership in the Indian Ocean and seek to work together to build a resilient regional architecture with a foundation both our nations respect: that of a rules-based order,” Mattis said at a press conference.
Sitharaman emphasized India’s interests in the Indian Ocean region and support for the rule of law and freedom of navigation. “India supports the freedom of navigation, over-flight and unimpeded lawful commerce,” she said. “We also believe that disputes should be resolved through peaceful means and in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law,” Sitharaman added.
Mattis and Sitharaman began wide-ranging talks on Tuesday on defense technology transfer and potential arms deals. Ahead of Mattis’ visit, a conclusion of a long-pending deal for India to purchase unmanned aerial vehicles from the United States had been expected.
“The U.S. is now a leading supplier of state-of-the-art defense equipment to India. I appreciated Secretary Mattis’ willingness to share further cutting-edge platforms which would enhance India’s defense preparedness to meet current and emerging threats,” Sitharaman said on Tuesday.