Panetta visits India amid US focus on Asia-Pacific

Panetta visits India amid US focus on Asia-Pacific

NEW DELHI - Agence France-Presse
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta headed to India yesterday for talks focusing on Washington’s strategic shift towards Asia, as U.S. officials eye New Delhi as a potentially pivotal partner.

Security ties to India have steadily improved in recent years but U.S. officials have yet to realize the goal of a game-changing alliance that could check China’s role and empower the two countries’ economies, analysts say.

During his two-day visit, Panetta is expected to discuss expanding defense ties, the NATO war effort in Afghanistan and China’s increasing economic and military power in the region, U.S. officials said.

Vital partner

Panetta was due to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon yesterday afternoon along with other officials, before giving a policy speech today, officials said.

In President Barack Obama’s new strategy blueprint unveiled in January, India is the only country mentioned by name as a vital partner. U.S. officials say the two countries share democratic traditions and similar concerns about China’s stance as well as the threat posed by extremists in South Asia.

On the war in Afghanistan, India worries that the departure of most U.S. and NATO forces by the end of 2014 could empower extremists. Last week, India called for greater coordination with the United States on Afghanistan. The India trip, part of a nine-day tour of Asia, follows stops in Vietnam and Singapore in which Panetta signaled U.S. plans to bolster its naval presence in the face of a more assertive China.